N.H. ranked in ‘Toxic 20’ for air pollution

When it comes to states in which power plants are the leading sources of toxic air pollution, New Hampshire is 19th worst in the nation, according to a new report that analyzed data from the Environmental Protection Agency.But once the mercury scrubber is completed to reduce toxic emissions from Public Service of New Hampshire’s coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, the state will likely fare much better in future rankings, said Bob Scott, director of the Air Resources Division at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.”The biggest emitter in the state is Merrimack Station, and you can’t drive by the highway without seeing the construction project there,” said Scott. “That will significantly reduce emissions from that plant.”Released jointly by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Physicians for Social Responsibility, and using data from the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, the report found that nearly half of all toxic air pollution in the United States comes from coal- and oil-fired power plants.But in New Hampshire, that percentage is much higher. In 2009, the state’s electricity generation sector emitted more than 2.5 million pounds of harmful chemicals, accounting for 96 percent of toxic air pollution in the state, according to the report.More than 2.25 million pounds of that pollution was emitted by Merrimack Station.According to the DES, air toxics are defined as pollutants that are suspected of causing cancer or other serious health conditions, or that cause adverse environmental impacts. These include mercury, sulfur dioxide, and heavy metals.At the Bow power plant, the scrubber system is expected to capture at least 80 percent of the mercury in the coal and reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 90 percent.The project has been contentious for its cost. When the utility was first required in 2006 by law to install the scrubber, the cost was estimated to be $250 million. By 2008, the project cost rose to $457 million.Construction on the project began in 2009, which by law must be operating no later than July 2013.”The good news is that the scrubber is going on,” said Scott. “As far as what the environment will see, this should help quite a bit.”Additionally, new federal requirements that may require further reductions in toxic emissions “will have the impact of reducing even further the emissions for the state,” said Scott.New Hampshire was the only state in New England to make the “Toxic 20” list, which was topped by Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Some of the pollutants that lower air quality in the state blow in from south of the state, with plumes coming from New York City and Boston, said Scott, though he does point to the state’s lack of mass transportation — and residents’ subsequent reliance on vehicles – as a factor that contributes to CO2 emissions. — KATHLEEN CALLAHAN/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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