Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE
We have highly developed short attention span. I believe it is a result of our sound bite society. Our information is fed to us in sound bites and grabbers. Little information is in depth. On the five minute “News Summary” all the news is bad news sound bites. It is time we shake this somnolence and act on the facts and not on the sound bites!!
“There is perhaps no greater State of Denial in modern life than sticking a plug into an electric outlet. No thinking person can eat a hamburger without knowing it was once a cow, or drink water from the tap without recognizing, at least dimly, that its journey began in some distant reservoir. Electricity is different. Fully sanitized of any hint of its origins, it pours out of the socket almost like magic.”
Where does electricity come from? It turns out 50% of the electricity in America is produced from burning coal.
Coal is a dirty fuel emitting carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide along with Particulate Matter and Mercury. The combinations of substances cause chronic diseases and the complications of these diseases. Coal is an abundant energy resource in America. Today, we have the technology to clean up the coal emissions and make it a safe source of energy for electricity generation. However, electric companies are doing their best to avoid the use of this new technology and use old cheaper technology in their new Coal Power Plants.
Why is this important to Repairing the Healthcare System? If our government did not permit industry to pollute our environment, there would be fewer people with chronic diseases and the complications of the chronic diseases generated by coal burning power plants throughout the country.
President Bush’s Clean Air Act for coal is the least stringent of the bills on the table. The estimate is his modest restrictions will cost the healthcare system $34 billion a year and save the power plant companies 4.7 billion dollars.
The $34 billion dollars per year is a recurring cost. It is a waste of money on diseases that are totally preventable by newer coal plant technology. The new technology reduces coal emissions 90%.
With new technology we could prevent at least 21,850 hospital admissions per year nationally. There were 26,000 Emergency room visits for asthma alone last year. Asthma is the No. 1 cause of kids ending up in the Emergency Room. Dirty Coal Burning Power Plants cause 554,000 asthmatic attacks, 16,200 attacks of chronic bronchitis, 38,200 heart attacks and 23,600 deaths per year. One can only guess at the staggering increases the 11 proposed plants will have in Texas.
I have emphasized that preventing chronic disease and its complications is the key to reducing our healthcare costs. Eighty percent of our healthcare dollar is spent on the complications of chronic disease. Ninety percent of the Medicare dollars are spent on the complication of chronic disease. The emissions from Dirty Coal Power Plants cause chronic disease and the complications of chronic disease. The diseases can be prevented by decreasing emissions with the new technology available.
Texas Governor Rich Perry acted irresponsibly when he issued an executive order to fast track new power generation plants that use “Texas Natural Resources” for “energy diversity”.
Rather than protecting the people from environmental pollution, he has acted to expose as many of us as he can to pollution. The Governor and state legislature could finally start helping us utilize solar power and wind power. We have plenty of these “natural resources” in Texas. These clean, renewable natural resources will not hurt anyone.
At the same time, TXU “our electric company” applied for permits for 11 new, giant, “dirty” coal plants in Texas. Where is the coal coming from? It is coming from Wyoming via very long noisy freight trains riding through our beautiful North Texas countryside.
One of the coal plants proposed is on the border of Fannin and Grayson County in North Central Texas. One Dirty Coal Burning Plant is within 10 miles of my farm in Bells, Texas. The proposed plant is within one and one half miles from the new public elementary school, middle school and high school in Bells, Texas. The forty story smokestack will be belching soot, mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides and ozone at children all day long contributing to the early onset of chronic lung illness in these children. These compounds do not stay in the local area. They spread for miles. Dallas, Texas presently has a large air quality problem. This proposed plant will add to Dallas’ air quality problem.
TXU defense has been lame at best and arrogant at worst. They say they are going to reduce emissions by 20% over present operating coal power plant emissions. The pollutants can be reduced by 90% with new technology. TXU says the pollution is exaggerated. Carbon dioxide is not a regulated pollutant. The Federal Environment Protection Agency (EPA) disputes this statement with many good scientific studies. TXU also says it is good for the local economy. However it is obvious that a polluted environment will drive people away from the area and drag down the local economy. We need to immediately stop tolerating sound bites.
The people who should be worked up by the proposal are the local people but they seem to be believing TXU’s sound bites. Laura Miller, the Mayor of Dallas, and the Mayor of Houston are forming a coalition to fight TXU’s application. I hope it works. I hope Governor Rick Perry wakes up and stops his irresponsible action.
Everyone throughout the United States should be on alert. The use of Dirty Coal Power Plants represents 50 year blight on the health of our nation.
What do these pollutants do to our health?
Sulfur Dioxide: Sulfur Dioxide is formed when coal on burning releases sulfur that reacts in air to form sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid causes wheezing, coughing, nasal congestion, and cardiac irregularities. It also causes low birth weight and increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The most vulnerable people are children and adults with asthma or other respiratory diseases.
Nitrogen Oxides (NxO): Nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen oxide are formed when coal is burned and Nitrogen is released from the coal. These compounds react with air in the presence of sunlight and form ozone.
Ozone: Ozone is a corrosive gas that causes rapid shallow breathing, airway irritation, and coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and intensifies asthma. It is related to premature births, cardiac birth defects, low birth weights and stunted lung growth in children. It affects outdoor breathing in adults, worsens asthma and respiratory diseases.
Particulate Matter: Particulate matter complexes with the gases formed and are toxic to lung tissues precipitating asthma, inflammation of the cardiac system and premature death. It is also related to premature birth, chronic airway obstruction, and sudden death syndrome in infants.
Mercury: Mercury is a metal in coal. It is released when coal is burned. It pollutes our water supply and causes defects in our nervous system and our ability to learn. In adults it affects blood pressure. In pregnant women it represents a great risk to the fetus.
Carbon Dioxide: Carbon Dioxide results in climate change as well and ecological environment. It is connected to the spread of West Nile virus and extinction of many helpful insects.
Dioxins: Dioxin is an endocrine disruptor that can cause hypogonadism in both males and females. It is also a precancerous irritant.
You do not need further explanation to realize our public health is at stake. Corporations have to be required to exercise reasonable social responsibility. Government has a responsibility to set the rules. When something is obvious the government must act for the good of the people and not the good of industry.
This is a case for Erin Brockovitch. Whoever is going to issue the permit should be notified of their liability before all these people get sick, and not after they get sick. The officials’ should also be liable for the 34 billion dollars the result of the pollution is going to cost the healthcare system. Maybe this will get TXU to think twice before completing their application process?
The devil is in the details. Let us start thinking about the details and not fall for the sound bites of irresponsible corporations and sound bites of our irresponsible elected officials.