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2 local utilities among dirtiest
By CRAIG PITTMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2000
Florida's power companies spew so many toxic chemicals that the state ranks fourth in the nation in total tons of utility-related pollution, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The worst state is Ohio, followed by West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Two Tampa Bay area utilities ranked among the top 25 polluting power companies in the nation, the EPA reported. Florida Power's Crystal River plant, fueled by both coal and nuclear energy, ranked 22nd. Tampa Electric Co.'s coal-powered Gannon power plant near downtown Tampa ranked No. 25.
They were not the dirtiest utilities in the state, however. Gulf Power's coal-fired plant in Pensacola ranked 14th. Pensacola also has the worst air pollution in the state. The Tampa Bay area is next.
Florida Power spokesman Mac Harris criticized the report for failing to say how much of a risk those toxic releases might be to public health -- not much, according to utilities officials, although environmental groups dispute that.
Harris said the report fails to differentiate between byproducts dumped into rivers and those recycled in concrete blocks or wallboard.
Every year the EPA issues a report called the Toxic Releases Inventory, compiling the records of 650 toxic chemicals emitted by about 25,000 businesses. The database was established after the Union Carbide chemical leak in Bhopal, India, that killed thousands. Congress determined that people living near industrial facilities have the right to know what is being discharged into the environment.
One goal of the EPA's reporting program is to encourage those businesses to cut back emissions. EPA officials said Thursday that total toxic discharges have decreased by 45 percent since they began issuing the reports 11 years ago.
For the first time, the EPA listings include electric utilities and six other industries, including coal mining and hazardous waste management.
"Americans will now have the best picture ever of the actual amounts of toxic pollution being emitted by industry into their local communities," EPA Administrator Carol Browner said.
The EPA report shows that "the same electric utilities that are responsible for the lion's share of smog and soot in Florida are also responsible for the lion's share of toxic pollution," said Mark Ferrulo of the Florida Public Interest Research Group.
This year's report was issued as Florida officials are trying to figure out how to deal with a decision by the Legislature last week to end auto emissions testing in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, which is expected to lead to further air pollution problems in the Tampa Bay area. However, the pollutants addressed by the auto tests are not the ones involved in the toxic chemical report.
Utilities nationwide emitted 1.1-billion pounds of toxic chemicals, primarily hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid and hydrogen fluoride fumes released into the air as byproducts of burning coal or oil.
The numbers in the EPA report are not current, TECO officials were quick to point out. They date to 1998 -- before new pollution-controlling scrubbers were installed at TECO's Big Bend plant, and before the company reached a $1-billion settlement with the EPA to convert its Gannon station to cleaner-burning natural gas in a few years.
The EPA report says TECO's Gannon plant released 8.1-million pounds of toxics from six coal units, which produce 1,180 megawatts of power. Gannon emitted 690,000 pounds of sulfuric acid, 7.1-million pounds of hydrochloric acid and 200,000 pounds of hydrogen chloride. TECO spokeswoman Laura Plumb said when the Gannon plant switches to natural gas, those emissions will be cut by 98 percent.
Big Bend's 1998 numbers show the Apollo Beach plant emitting 1.6-million pounds of sulfuric acid, 1.5-million pounds of hydrochloric acid and 130,000 pounds of hydrogen fluoride. The new scrubbers cut those emissions by more than 70 percent, Plumb said.
Florida Power's Crystal River facility, which produces 3,101 megawatts from four coal units and one nuclear unit, emitted more than 8.7-million pounds of hazardous chemicals. It released 780,000 pounds of sulfuric acid, 6.9-million pounds of hydrochloric acid and 750,000 pounds of hydrogen chloride.
In addition to Florida Power, TECO and Pensacola's Gulf Power, a fourth Florida utility made the list of the top 25 toxic polluters in the country: the coal-powered Seminole Generating Station in Palatka, owned by the Tampa-based Seminole Electric Cooperative, came in just behind the Pensacola plant.
Florida ranked 11th in the nation for toxic emissions from manufacturing industries. One Florida factory, Solutia Inc., ranks as the sixth-worst polluter in the nation. The Pensacola company, which manufactures nylon, has been dumping chemicals into the Escambia River for years. Company officials recently cut a deal with several environmental groups to curtail the dumping.