Letter from Massachusetts physicians in support of
tough regulations for old power plants:


January 10, 2000

The Honorable A. Paul Cellucci
The State House Boston, MA 02133

Dear Governor Cellucci,

As health care professionals we are deeply concerned about the impact that air pollution is having on our patients.
In particular, five old coal- and oil-burning power plants in Massachusetts contribute significantly to our air pollution problems. Built 23-47 years ago, these Filthy Five power plants benefit from a loophole in our laws which exempts them from newer clean air emission standards, allowing them to emit up to five times more air pollution than newer plants. It is imperative that these plants be cleaned up to modern standards thereby reducing the toxicants to which our patients are exposed.

The Filthy Five plants are Brayton Point in Somerset, Salem Harbor in Salem, Canal in Sandwich, Mystic in Charlestown and the Mount Tom plant in Holyoke. These plants emit over 80% of the emissions from all Massachusetts power plants, and indeed 70 to 80% of all the fixed point emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides in Massachusetts.

Major pollutants emitted include:

  • sulfur dioxide, which forms particulate air pollution that causes breathing problems such as asthma, and may contribute to up to 1000 deaths in Massachusetts each year;

  • nitrogen oxides, which create harmful ozone pollution that exacerbates asthma and other respiratory problems, and is particularly dangerous to the elderly, children and those with compromised immune systems;

  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are carcinogens; and,

  • mercury, a known neurotoxicant which has so polluted Massachusetts waterways that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has issued statewide fish consumption advisories cautioning pregnant women and children to limit their consumption of fresh water fish due to mercury contamination.

A more detailed description of the mechanisms of action and health effects of power plant air pollutant emissions follow.

Sulfur dioxide, which itself may have a direct effect on asthma, contributes to the formation of acid aerosols and particulate matter air pollution, which has been very clearly shown to be associated with chest symptoms, days lost from school and work due to respiratory disease, increased asthma attacks and asthma medication use, increased emergency room use by persons with respiratory disease, increased hospitalization rates, and increased mortality rates from cardiac and pulmonary disease. Some estimates put the impact as high as a thousand deaths a year in Massachusetts due to air pollution.

Nitrogen oxides react in the atmosphere and are converted to ozone air pollution. Ozone, a strong oxidant gas causes airway inflammation resulting in symptoms of chest pain and tightness, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Ozone causes declines in lung function and airway hyperreactivity resulting in exacerbations of asthma. Epidemiologically, this is associated with increased emergency room use and hospitalization. Indeed, the American Lung Association and the EPA have issued guidelines restricting recreational exercise, and the American Council of Governmental Industrial Hygienists have issued guidelines restricting heavy manual labor during ozone air pollution episodes.

Hazardous air pollutants from these plants include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and mercury. We know that PAHs are carcinogens, and when adsorbed to particulate matter, seem to contribute to lung cancer.

Mercury is a known fetal neurologic toxicant; methylated by microorganisms in aquatic systems, it is bioconcentrated by the ecosystem and enters the food supply via fish. Fish from so many lakes have tested in the toxic range for mercury that fish consumption advisories are the rule in our state. Coal plants, including the Brayton Point, Salem Harbor and Mount Tom facilities are the largest unregulated source of mercury emissions in Massachusetts.

Governor Cellucci, our patients are being adversely affected locally and regionally by this air pollution, and we need your help to assure that each of these plants is cleaned up to modern standards by the year 2003. A coalition of over 130 organizations, including the American Lung Association, Massachusetts Respiratory Hospital, the Chelsea Asthma Project (Massachusetts General Hospital Health Center), Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, and many municipal boards of health across Massachusetts has come together to call on the state to act further to reduce air pollution from power plants. Specifically, the coalition urges that these oldest, most polluting plants, meet the same pollution standards required of newer power plants built after 1977. Governor Cellucci, please move swiftly to reduce the pollution from these stationary sources and prevent the illness that would otherwise result. Thank you for your prompt attention.

This letter was signed by over 75 doctors and health care professionals