BGE plants near top for toxins

Two facilities release 11.5 million pounds in 1998, EPA report says

May 12, 2000|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Two Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. power plants in Anne Arundel County released 11.5 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air in 1998, ranking them first in the state and 11th in the nation for toxins, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday.

The EPA distributed its Toxics Release Inventory report for 1998, which monitors the volumes of 650 chemicals released into the environment by various industries in the U.S., including utilities.

The Brandon Shores and Wagner Station plants released 16 of the 650 toxic chemicals.

Federal law requires that companies report the volume of the toxic chemicals they produce if it is more than 25,000 pounds a year.

The EPA report includes only the volumes of toxic chemicals produced, not the health effects, federal officials said.

"Health and hazard review is extremely complex," said Craig Yussen, a chemical engineer with the EPA regional office in Philadelphia.

"That information can't be drawn from this report," Yussen said.

"We just give the facts regarding the amount of releases."

BGE officials said that while toxic chemical emissions from utilities are high in volume, they are low in risk because they are diluted once they mix with the air.

"We are in compliance with all environmental regulations," said Bonnie Johansen, BGE's senior environmental scientist.

Kim Erickson, toxics campaign coordinator for MaryPIRG, an environmental advocacy group, said the EPA requires industries to report the volumes of the chemicals because they are harmful.

"It's now clear that the same electric utilities that are responsible for the lion's share of smog and soot in Maryland are also responsible for the lion's share of toxic pollution," Erickson said.

The report, she added, suggests "the need to strengthen, not weaken, public protections against toxic hazards."

According to the 1998 report, along with the Brandon Shores and Wagner Station plants, four other BGE plants released 1.9 million pounds of toxic chemicals for a total of 13.4 million pounds of toxic chemicals, including hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid and hydrofluoric acid.

The 16 chemicals that BGE plants produce are natural byproducts of coal and oil combustion, Johansen said.

The EPA report ranked two Potomac Electric Power Co. plants in second and third place in the state for the amounts of toxic chemicals released in 1998.

Pepco's Morgantown Generating Station in Charles County produced 5.5 million pounds of toxic chemicals, while its Chalk Point Generating Station in Southern Maryland produced 3.3 million pounds.

But while the EPA report is two years behind, BGE has already independently released its data for 1999.

Brandon Shores and Wagner Station together released 12.6 million pounds of 16 toxic chemicals, while three other power plants released a combined 1.8 million pounds, according to the company.

BGE's power plants produced more toxic chemicals last year compared to 1998 because the plants produced more electricity, BGE environmental scientist Johansen said.

The utility's six coal-fired plants produce more than 2,000 megawatts of electricity, supplying about 40 percent of the electricity used in central Maryland. One megawatt can typically power 500 homes.

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