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Healthy Living

By Christina Stein
Opinion | May 28, 2011

coal.jpgGREAT BEND, Kan. - The Holcomb Power Plant has been a source of debate in the State as of late. We already know the basics of this plant, an average of 10 % of the energy would be used in the State of Kansas, with the rest going out of State (Colorado, ect). Which means, we would benefit little and be stuck with the clean up cost.

The Kingston Plant in Tennessee is an example of worst case scenario coming to life. People who live in the area are still suffering complications. Family's are unable to sell their homes because of a toxic sludge that overtook the area when the plant exploded, children are unable to play in their backyards without protective suits because of the complications. View Picture's and Video's here

ABC News also did a special on it about a year ago, the information was overwhelming.

After attending a meeting of the Grassroots Environmental Action Team (GREAT) last week and receiving the following print out from the group, I found it important to share. The information is in depth and to be honest, alarming. Please read on for more information. The following is the letter in its entirety...

Kansas legislators' approval for Sunflower Electric to construct a new coal-fired generator plant at Holcomb threatens the health of all Kansans, especially the young and very old. Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) documents show that the plant will spew a combined total of approximately eight thousand tons of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid mists, dangerous particulates, lead and mercury every year for the next half century.

Children's lungs are much more susceptible to injury from coal plant emissions... thought to be the major cause of asthma rates doubling over the last 20 years. (Fact Sheet) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns Kansas officials that proposed limits on emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide from this new plant are too lax and is seeking further review. The American Lung Association (ALA) states, "Power plant pollution kills people... pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxides... make breathing difficult, causes asthma attacks and increases the risk of emergency room and hospital visits. But particulate matter is an even more threatening pollutant, as these microscopic particles can cause cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes, and can cause premature death...increased risks to older adults." KDHE already detected unhealthy levels of ozone, a product of nitrogen oxides produced from burning coal and other fossil fuels, from unidentified sources with their air quality monitoring station in Cedar Bluff State Park in Trego County, Kansas... which is about 80 miles northeast of Holcomb.

Physicians for Social Responsibility advise, "Coal-fired power plants are ... the single largest source of mercury emissions in the U.S." KDHE records show similar findings for Kansas. The CDC reports that "one of every 10 to 17 women of childbearing age has mercury levels unsafe for her unborn baby. Pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of mercury... As many as 600,000 children are born each year with dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies, putting them at heightened risk for developmental disabilities. This is particularly concerning given the increasing incidence of autism and other neurological problems among U.S. children." The ALA says that coal plant pollution "threatens the brains and nervous system of children." A study by the National Academies of Science estimates that 60,000 children of all those born with neurological problems every year in the U.S. are caused by "mercury exposure in the womb." It doesn't take much... Only one teaspoon of mercury in a 1,700 acre lake can make fish unsafe to eat. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks already identifies two counties where consuming fish should be restricted because of mercury contamination.

There is no doubt that, if built, the Sunflower plant will sicken generations of children and shorten lives of senior citizens. Legislators must commit themselves to every child's right to begin life healthy. We ask that you join us in demanding that our legislators protect our children and elders by stopping this poisonous development now.

Submitted by Felix Revello on behalf of the Grassroots Environmental Action Team (GREAT)

GREAT is a grassroots environmental advocacy relying on ethics and science for guidance in keeping our planet clean and healthy to benefit all people. Members in Pawnee, Rush and Barton Counties.

Additional Reading - EPA is working to change standards and discusses benefits of new standards.


Great information but so alarming Christina. Is there anything else the public can do to assist GREAT since our legislators seem to support pollution over the health care concerns this plant may have on future generations of Kansans?

We humans seem to be quite willing to fowl our nest for the sake of a few dollars.

I'm not so sure Christina. While I understand your concerns you might want to rethink your opposition to the Holcomb plant.

Fact is we can talk about conservation but the fact is as our population and electrical needs keep rising. Here in Kansas City they put in this new area called the "Power and Light" district. They also built this massive indoor arena called the Sprint center. Guess how how much power will be needed to keep that building cool with 30,000 people on a hot August night? Go to KU or a K State football game and see the massive jumbotron. How many Watts does that take? Go to an indoor basketball game. What keeps that massive indoor arena lighted and cooled (note-heat comes from natural gas or oil)? I suspect you'd like to see a factory open up in Great Bend that would provide jobs. Where will that power come from?

And look at our daily lives. A home in the 1950's had a 40 amp breaker. In the 70's a 60 amp. NEC electrical code standard now is 200 amps. We all carry cell phones and portable computers which all require power.

So we NEED more sources of power.

Windmills of course, can offer a good alternative and many are coming online. However the fact is they require massive amounts of land and they still require a backup power source for the times when the wind stops blowing. I'll have to go back and recheck my research but a windfarm that would produce the 700 MW equal to the Holcomb plant would require 300-500 windmills (each generating 1-2 MW) and hundreds of acres.

You quote many statistics on why coal generated power is so bad. Here in Kansas City we have KCPL and over half there production comes from coal with the rest being from a combination of nuclear, wind, and natural gas. All these other power methods have there own issues. In Wyandotte County the power comes from Board of Public Utilities and 100% of their power comes from coal plants. So the question is, why here in Kansas City are we not choking on coal smoke? The answer is the plants use a variety of measures to cut down on emissions. Remember the people who run those plants also live here.

As for the issue of where the power goes, it's just a quirk of geography that western Kansas has open areas and eastern Colorado has cities. Whats wrong with Kansas earning money from another product (electricity) like we do wheat?

So while I understand your opposition to this new power plant, it's best if we all grit our teeth and accept the fact that we need this plant and we should work to ensure its as safe as possible.

Simply put Brad, because we the citizen's make no profit from the energy (a corporation that pays little tax DOES) and WE have to pay for the clean-up. We don't even get any of the energy, we are just the dumping grounds for the company. Why pollute a beautiful State like Colorado (which geographically is NOT populated on the far Eastern Side) when you can pollute Kansas

If that isn't bad enough that company has renigged on several loans.

Marcia, The issues with not paying taxes and loans I was unaware of. If your right I'll gladly change sides on this issue. Could you provide links to the information?

There is also a provision in the legislation that we must pay for "the energy" if Sunflower is unable to.

No reasonable person wants a coal-fired power plant in their back yard, and I admire the work GREAT is doing to prevent the construction of a new one. However; immediate environmental concerns aside, Brad asserts an unfortunately accurate point. We will need the energy eventually. While energy development does not necessarily cause an increase in energy consumption, the two share an exceedingly strong positive correlation. Now, Brad did not mention it directly (but he certainly leaned toward it), the real issue is more or less energy efficiency. Instead of aiming their concern directly at the prohibition of a new plant on environmental ground, I would suggest GREAT also consider seriously the issue of efficiency. Across the United States, the average efficiency of a CFPP is 33.1% (page 5). Even if this new plant is more efficient it, will likely not be anymore so than 50% (I have yet to hear of a CFPP in operation running above 55%). Energy waste is the real issue, and one which might seriously gain ground with voters/constituents if offered in conjunction with an environmental stance.

So how do you do that? Well, you could use Brad's example of the Sprint Center - how much energy is it wasting? How much energy are streetlights on low traffic roads wasting? How much are you wasting on an annual basis? Remember, just because you turn your television off at night does not mean it still uses electricity (it does). The surprising thing about energy conservation is that it has the capacity to cut total waste almost in half (leveled across all sectors). Less wasteful use reduces the need for continued energy development. Consider for example that in 1993 the U.S. energy use for lighting in buildings (approx. 80% from coal) was 120 Mtoe. With conservation efforts (increased efficiency) that amount could have been reduced to 40 Mtoe (see DOE-EERE, 1997 and DOE-EIA, 1996). That is a substantial decrease - and one which makes a significant impact.

My suggestion would be that your group loss-frame (people respond to that most readily) the CFPP and offer the conservation aspect as a solution to the perceived loss. The neat thing is that such a solution is feasible not just at a significantly reduced cost in relation to the CFPP (both in terms of actual energy production costs and environmental costs), but it would save consumers a fair amount of money.

Now, this is only the first step, as you will need to develop counters for the inevitable issue of income (and job development) for Kansas via the transmission of energy to others. But, it is worth noting that you can do that to some advantage with a properly primed support group . . .

My apologies for the long comment, this was simply an interesting article, and I found myself with a little free time . . .


Dave and Brad, you both made great points. I appreciate your posts, gives me something more to think about.

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