A new report said Wednesday that Iowa and Illinois are among the top "toxic 20" states in the country in terms of pollution emitted by coal- and oil-powered power plants.
The report, issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Physicians for Social Responsibility, is aimed at encouraging the federal government to move ahead with new clean air regulations.
Using 2009 data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the groups said Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Kentucky topped the list with the most power-plant-generated air pollutants. Illinois was 17th and Iowa 20th. The 2009 data was the latest available.
"This poison power really does threaten the health of our kids and our families," said Dr. Lynn Ringenberg, a pediatrician from Florida and a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
The toxics being released cause cancer, birth defects and respiratory illness, as well as affect the neurological development of children, Ringenberg said.
Half of the industrial pollutants in the U.S. come from coal- and oil-fired power plants. Nationwide, 381.7 million tons of toxic air pollution comes from the electric sector, the report said.
In Iowa, the picture is different.
The state, while ranked 20th in the report, saw only 16 percent of its industrial pollutants come from power plants, according to data from the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory.
The food, chemicals and metals manufacturing sectors ranked higher.
Dan Lashof, climate center director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said nonetheless that all pollutants need to be addressed, and he noted another EPA rule aimed at reducing pollution from industrial boilers also is being criticized.
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"We should be cleaning up all sources of industrial pollution," he said.
About 15.3 million pounds of toxic air pollution was emitted in Iowa in 2009, according to the data, with nearly 2.5 million coming from power plants. The state ranked 11th in mercury air pollution from power plants, the report said.
Illinois had 23.9 million pounds of toxic air pollution, according to the report, with nearly 5.9 million of it from power plants. It ranked eighth in mercury air pollution from power plants.
Among the power plant operators in Iowa is MidAmerican Energy Co., which responded to the report Wednesday.
In a statement, MidAmerican said it was one of the first companies in the U.S. to install mercury controls and it was continuing to take steps to install mercury and other controls.
"MidAmerican Energy supports EPA's efforts to reduce mercury and other emissions. We will be providing comments to EPA regarding specific implementation issues of concern to ensure that the final requirements are advanced in a way that balances costs and environmental benefits," said Cathy Woollums, senior vice president, environmental services.
In March, the EPA proposed new regulations to reduce emissions of such toxic pollutants as mercury, arsenic, nickle and chromium. The agency says the new rules would prevent 11,000 heart attacks, 6,800 to 17,000 premature deaths and 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms, along with 850,000 missed days of work because of illness.
Some industry and congressional critics say the rules will drive up energy costs and kill jobs. A House committee last week approved a bill to block the rules from taking effect, requiring more detailed analysis of several proposed regulations.
The comment period for the proposed new power plants rules ends Aug. 4. The EPA wants to finish the new standards for power plants in November.