April 19, 2018
Politics & Opinion
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Is Pasadena Air Quality Unhealthy?

Senator Bryan Simonaire
Senator Bryan Simonaire's picture
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June 14, 2017

Are we being exposed to unhealthy levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2)? That is a fair question considering the recent contradicting reports on the subject.

With two major coal-fired power plants in the Pasadena area, we all want to be assured that the air we breathe is healthy and does not contain elevated levels of SO2.

Delegate Meagan Simonaire, Delegate Nic Kipke and I have been working to secure the necessary air monitoring equipment to help determine the air quality in our community.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that “the largest source of SO2 in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels by power plants and other industrial facilities.” It goes on to say that exposure to elevated levels of SO2 can “harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult. Children, the elderly and those who suffer from asthma are particularly sensitive to effects of SO2.”

Conflicting SO2 Reports

Many are concerned over conflicting reports regarding the SO2 levels at the Brandon Shores Generating Station and H.A. Wagner Power Plant, with more unease coming from the EPA’s recent labeling of the area as being in violation of SO2 safety levels.

One recent report from the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) concluded that the SO2 levels were within the safety margins. MDE used the available monitoring data and current conditions to conduct its review. Based on the department’s recommendation, our state government designated the area as within safe measures or “attainment.”

Another recent report from the Sierra Club concluded that SO2 levels were significantly above safe margins. Their modeling was based on data from 2012 to 2014, without the recent improvements at the power plants. A federal agency, EPA decided to use Sierra Club’s modeling data and designated the area as noncompliant or “nonattainment.”

Both reports used computerized modeling without monitoring the actual air quality. MDE is currently developing a plan to address the Sierra Club’s findings, but the plan will not be available until 2018.

Uncertainty in Air Quality

While there is debate about the validity of the results, one thing is clear: There is uncertainty about the levels of SO2. Therefore, our District 31B team is serious about tackling this issue head on.

Delegate Meagan Simonaire, Delegate Nic Kipke and I have been in contact with numerous individuals and community associations living close to the power plants. Several have requested our assistance in obtaining an air monitoring system as their attempts to do so have hit a brick wall. They estimated the cost to be nearly $250,000.

Unfortunately, their efforts have not produced any tangible results or equipment despite having a nonbinding request put in the annual budget bill. The nonbinding request allocated zero dollars, hence the difficulty.

Hard Work Delivers

Our district team was asked to provide real and tangible assistance in solving this problem. Seeing the urgency for conclusive data and the fact that no money had been allocated at the state or local levels of government, we initiated productive meetings with government officials discussing how to overcome the $250,000 requirement, alternative methods to reduce the cost, the timeline to acquire the equipment, different options that met the objective of the communities, and so many other issues.

As of this writing, we just concluded a productive meeting with the state, which committed to provide the air monitoring equipment to our community this fall. The data will be gathered for the first month to ensure a large enough sample size, and then the monitoring data will be publicly available for all to see.

The people of Pasadena and its surrounding areas have the right to know the quality of the air they breathe, especially when reports question the safety levels.

To track the progress of this effort or see the air sampling results, contact my office at 410-841-3658 or bryan.simonaire@senate.state.md.us.

Thank you to all those that helped voice their support for our efforts.

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