(Washington, DC) – Mayor Vincent C. Gray said today that he and his administration were concerned over the high levels of sulfur dioxide being emitted from the Potomac River Generating Station in Alexandria, Va., because of their potential adverse effects on District residents.
Much of the emissions are entering the atmosphere over the District’s Ward 8, according to a new report by the Sierra Club.
“I take the health and well-being of our of District residents very seriously, and I’m deeply concerned about this report,” said Mayor Gray. “It is my sincere hope that the parties responsible will step up and do what’s right for the environment and for the health of our citizens.”
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is one of a group of six highly reactive gases known as oxides of sulfur. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), studies have shown a link between short-term exposures to SO2, ranging from 5 minutes to 24 hours, and an array of adverse respiratory effects, including bronchial constriction and increased asthma symptoms. Studies have also shown a connection between short-term exposure and increased visits to emergency departments and hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses. This is particularly true in at-risk populations such as children, the elderly and asthmatics, the EPA reports.
As part of a national Beyond Coal Campaign to shut down coal-fired power plants, the Sierra Club conducted modeling of the SO2 concentrations downwind from the Potomac River Generating Station and compared them to federal health standards. The results indicate possible levels in Ward 8 that exceed the standards.
The plant provides power to the District as well as other places.
“We are concerned about these modeling results and are considering a petition to EPA under Section 126 of the Clean Air Act to ask EPA to address the situation” said DDOE Director Christophe A.G. Tulou. “We will also work with the Public Service Commission to ensure that possible loss of generating capacity at the power plant would not jeopardize reliability of electricity in the District during times of peak demand.”
The coal-fired Potomac River Generating Station is owned by GenOn Energy, Inc., one of the largest competitive generators of wholesale electricity in the United States. It has been a source of concern for environmentalists in the District and elsewhere for close to 10 years.
The largest sources of SO2 emissions, the EPA reports, are from fossil-fuel combustion at power plants (73 percent) and other industrial facilities (20 percent). DDOE will continue to assess and evaluate the situation to determine necessary next steps.