Virginia and Maryland Have Really Toxic Air

The two are on the top 20 list of states with the most harmful chemicals in the air.

Power plants contribute to 44 percent of all toxic air pollution in the US. In an updated report from the National Resources Defense Council, Virginia and Maryland made the top 20 list of states with the most toxic air. Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

Here’s the good news: In 2010, toxic pollution in the US declined by 19 percent.

The bad news: For the second time in a row, Virginia and Maryland made this year’s Toxic 20 list, which includes states in which residents are at a higher risk of more health problems just by breathing, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania topped the list, respectively.

The report, “Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States,” found that despite a reduction in harmful chemicals emitted in 2010, coal- and oil-fired power plants still contribute 44 percent of all toxic air pollution. The Toxic 20 states actually account for 92 percent of electric sector toxic air pollution and 72 percent of electric sector mercury emissions.

Twelfth-ranked Virginia emitted 9.5 million pounds of toxic air pollution in 2010—Dominion accounted for half of the state’s top power plant polluters. The state was bumped up from its 2009 rank of 14.

While Maryland was still one of the most toxic states, its air was significantly cleaner in 2010. The state’s power plants emitted 3.1 million pounds of toxic air, but they moved down from 5th to 19th in 2010. Since its 2009 ranking, Maryland has set electric sector mercury regulations that are at least as stringent as the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed air toxics rule, resulting in an 88 percent reduction of toxic air emissions in 2010.

The EPA estimates that if power plants continue to reduce their toxic emissions, it could prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths, 130,000 asthma attacks, 5,700 hospital visits, 4,700 heart attacks, and 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis each year.

The complete Toxic 20 list is as follows:

1. Kentucky
2. Ohio
3. Pennsylvania
4. Indiana
5. West Virginia
6. Florida
7. Michigan
8. North Carolina
9. Georgia
10. Texas
11. Tennessee
12. Virginia
13. South Carolina
14. Alabama
15. Missouri
16. Illinois
17. Mississippi
18. Wisconsin
19. Maryland
20. Delaware

For the full report, visit the Natural Resources Defense Council’s website.