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Kentucky City Shut Down Coal Plant And It Had A Dramatic Effect On Locals’ Health

by : Lucy Connolly on : 01 May 2020 16:51
Kentucky City Shut Down Coal Plant And It Had A Dramatic Effect On Locals' HealthKentucky City Shut Down Coal Plant And It Had A Dramatic Effect On Locals' HealthPexels

After closing its local coal power plant, a US city has seen a major decrease in air pollution and respiratory condition-related hospitalisations.

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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.

louisville power plantlouisville power plantPA Images

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.

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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.

asthma inhalerasthma inhalerNIAID/Flickr

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’.

carbon dioxide emissionscarbon dioxide emissionsPA Images
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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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Lucy Connolly

A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).

Topics: Health, coal, Environment, kentucky, Louisville, Pollution, UA

Credits

Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and 2 others
  1. Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

    Asthma Hospitalizations Drop After Power Plants Reduce Emissions

  2. Nature Energy

    Improved asthma outcomes observed in the vicinity of coal power plant retirement, retrofit and conversion to natural gas

  3. US Energy Information Administration

    Profile Analysis