Kentucky City Shut Down Coal Plant And It Had A Dramatic Effect On Locals’ Health
After closing its local coal power plant, a US city has seen a major decrease in air pollution and respiratory condition-related hospitalisations.
According to a new study, the closure of the plant in Louisville, Kentucky, had a massive impact on the health of locals as well as on the air quality in the surrounding area.
Historically, Kentucky has ranked among the top five US states for emissions from power generation, and so when one of the city’s plants closed and three more installed stricter emission controls, researchers jumped at the opportunity to conduct a natural experiment.
The study, which was led by environmental health scientists from Columbia University, measured the city’s air quality in the years following the closure and stricter emission controls.
These controls saw three coal power plants install ‘sulfur dioxide scrubbers’ to their smokestacks between 2013 and 2016 to comply with regulations from the US Environmental Protection Agency.
By the spring of 2015, the changes had already brought around a 55% reduction in the number of air pollutants in Louisville. And within just four years, the number of people requiring hospitalisations and emergency room visits for asthma attacks dropped dramatically, with 400 fewer hospital admissions and emergency room visits.
Additionally, those residents with asthma started using their inhalers considerably less within a matter of months. For example, in the year following the installation of sulfur dioxide scrubbers at the Mill Creek plant in 2016, researchers saw a 17% drop in inhaler use by asthma patients.
Joan Casey, lead author of the paper and assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said in a statement:
This study was unique in its ability to measure asthma morbidity based on both hospitalisations and daily symptoms, and to leverage an abrupt change in environmental exposure to more directly attribute changes in asthma exacerbation to changes in coal-fired power plant emissions.
The results of the study were published in the journal Nature Energy last month, with study author Meredith Barrett, head of population health research for Propeller Health, describing it as ‘the first study to use digital inhaler sensors to understand the health effects of reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants’.
She added that the team hopes this evidence will encourage government officials to ‘support stricter standards when regulating coal-fired power plants and encourage us towards cleaner power options, thereby protecting the health of the people who live near these facilities’.
Coal accounts for an estimated 75% of Kentucky’s energy production, far above the 23.5% of energy nationwide that comes from coal and greater than any other state apart from West Virginia and Wyoming.
Hopefully the study will make way for even greater improvements to be made in the future.
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CreditsColumbia University Mailman School of Public Health and 2 others
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
US Energy Information Administration