A study led by Columbia University's environmental health sciences department calculated a 55 percent reductionin the amount of lung-irritating pollutants in Louisville’s air following the closure of Louisville Gas and Electric's Cane Run facility and the installation of sulfur dioxide scrubbers at two other plants within 75 miles from Louisville. Moreover, researchers discovered nearly 400 fewer hospital admissions or emergency room visits for asthma attacks in Louisville in the year following the closure and the addition of pollution controls and a 17 percent drop in the use of inhalers by 207 asthma patients in the month following the installation of scrubbers at another LGE plant in 2016.
Although this study focused on a neighboring state and city hundreds of miles from us, these findings are noteworthy for local residents of the Ohio Valley for several reasons. First, although there have been numerous studies showing people who live near coal-fired power plants have more asthma symptoms and other maladies, it is oftentimes difficult to directly attribute those problems to coal-fired power plants in light of other confounding factors. This study provides direct evidence of the negative impact of coal-fired power plants on the human respiratory system. But, more specifically, the Upper Ohio Valley is absolutely inundated with coal fired power plants, making us all susceptible to the human health impacts of such power generation and the air pollution it causes. And finally, and most acutely, new research has emerged linking higher levels of long-term air pollution, like those in the Ohio Valley, to larger numbers of deaths from Covid-19.
At a time when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the current administration routinely attacks the scienceused to establish federal air pollution regulations, it is more important than ever that we act to keep these protections in place. They’re hardly a complete solution as is, but any rollbacks in these laws could prove devastating for local residents in the novel world of a Covid-19 pandemic. The Louisville study is simply the latest in a well-developed body of studies showing that cleaner air results in healthier people and we, as local residents, should remain informed and aware of any efforts to roll back laws that could put all of us at even greater risk for disease or death from air pollution.