Too many coal plants cause unhealthy particle pollution

MADISON — It’s not something to be proud of — Wisconsin has the most unsafe air in the country today.

For the fourth day in a row, the Department of Natural Resources issued an air advisory for Wisconsin; today’s advisory includes 54 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties at an orange level of concern, meaning the air is unsafe for sensitive groups. And the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI) forecast shows about one-third of Wisconsin covered in orange, the highest level of concern in today’s forecast for the entire nation.

“It is alarming that the frequency of these alerts is on the rise in Wisconsin,” says Katie Nekola, energy program director for Clean Wisconsin, an environmental organization celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. “Health officials are encouraging children, the elderly and those with lung disease and asthma to stay inside. Instead of restricting Wisconsin’s most vulnerable citizens, we should be cleaning up our air by taking the biggest polluters — old, dirty coal plants — offline.”

The advisory was issued because of persistent and elevated levels of fine particles in the air. These fine particles come primarily from combustion sources, including coal-fired power plants. These particulates can get deep into the lung tissue, making them difficult to exhale, especially for health-sensitive individuals. In Wisconsin, 41 coal units emit thousands of tons of soot, or fine particles, into the air every day.

“We can afford to shut down some of these old dirty coal plants,” says Nekola. “Wisconsin has an oversupply of electric generation for the foreseeable future, yet we allow these coal plants keep on running, polluting our air and endangering our health.”