Despite its limited operation, in recent years, the Potomac plant burned approximately 400,000 tons of coal annually -- enough to fill a freight train that is over seven miles long. Much of the coal comes from surface mining in Appalachia, which can have a devastating impact on local watersheds and wildlife.
Burning all this coal also generates a lot of air pollution, even taking into account the emission controls now installed at the plant. Based on EPA data, in 2010, the PRGS emitted 1,417 tons of SO2 and 1,451 tons of NOx, which contribute to acid rain and harmful ozone levels, as well as over 60 tons of fine particulate matter, mercury and other toxic metals which are associated with asthma, lung diseases and heart attacks.
Epidemiological Studies have shown that cardio vascular and cancer deaths are strongly correlated with dirty air, especially higher concentrations of small particulate matter (PM2.5). Based on these studies, The Clean Air Task Force’s September 2010 report, “The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America’s Dirtiest Energy Source,” estimated the PM2.5-related benefits of reducing emissions from coal plants. Their updated report estimated that over 5 years, the emissions generated at the Potomac plant might have lead to over 175 premature deaths, as well as hundreds of heart attacks and severe asthma incidents. Closing the plant, thus, is likely to save lives, reduce chronic illnesses in the community and avoid numerous hospital admissions.