by Jason Y. Lee
North Carolina ranks 11th nationwide in hazardous air pollutant emissions, according to a report released today by the Environmental Integrity Project.
The report focuses on six toxic heavy metals—arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel and selenium—as well as hydrochloric acid gas. North Carolina ranked 11th in the nation for emissions of nickel, fifth for selenium and sixth for hydrochloric acid gas.
Long-term exposure to toxic chemicals can cause respiratory disorders, damage to the nervous and circulatory systems and a variety of cancers.
According to the report, emission levels of these pollutants by electric utilities have decreased nationwide since 2007, including in North Carolina, but electric utilities remain the leader in emitting airborne toxins. In 2010, they emitted almost 200 million pounds of hazardous air pollutants, almost twice as much as the next-worst industry.
The report also listed the most polluting power plants for each chemical. North Carolina's power plants were largely absent from the top tier of offenders. Exceptions were Roxboro Steam Electric Plant (Progress Energy), which ranked ninth in the nation for mercury emission;
Crystal River Energy Complex (Progress Energy), eighth in the nation for selenium emissions; and Belews Creek Steam Station (Duke Energy), 12th in the nation for selenium emissions. Additionally, six North Carolina power plants were among the top 75 in the nation for hydrochloric acid gas emissions.
The top five “filthiest” states were, in order, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Texas.
The Environmental Integrity Project, a watchdog organization founded by former EPA enforcement attorneys, hopes the report will increase awareness about the magnitude of airborne toxins generated by the electric utilities industry.