Melanie Scarborough ["Plug That Power Plant Back In," Close to Home, Aug. 28] wrote, "Although the coal dust on window sills is bothersome, has anyone quantified it as a health risk?" Perhaps Ms. Scarborough has not been listening to her neighbors wheeze and cough. Many of us "younger" athletes have been cautioned by our doctors to stay out of the air near the Mirant plant if we want to be able to breathe.

I have been hospitalized with severe lung problems three times in the past two years. I've sacrificed my fitness and preventive health routines and made the sad decision to stay inside and enjoy my beautiful river view only from my apartment.

How insulting of Ms. Scarborough to liken those working to improve air quality to "people dragging on cigarettes complain[ing] that the power plant is endangering their health."




For years Potomac River Power Plant operators have told nearby residents that the facility is safe and pollution exposure levels are within acceptable limits. Melanie Scarborough's column continues this pattern of failing to tell the whole story.

First, Mirant wasn't forced to shut down. It voluntarily closed in anticipation of possible state action.

Second, the downwash study was sponsored by Mirant and performed by a firm under contract to Mirant.

Third, her description of the worst-case scenario is misleading. The study was meant to determine the impact of emissions while the plant operates at full capacity. Although the plant may not constantly operate at capacity, it would be shortsighted not to assess that impact. Moreover, Mirant's violations of Environmental Protection Agency standards are so great (13.8 times the 24-hour standard), they are likely to occur when the plant operates at 60 percent capacity.

Fourth, effects of prolonged exposure differ from those of periodic exposure.

Jonathan Levy of the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study two years ago that attributed 59 deaths, 66 hospitalizations, 870 emergency room visits and more than 3,000 asthma attacks annually to particulate-matter emissions from this plant. This exposure doesn't stop in Alexandria; the study found that pollution is also blown onto D.C. residents.

Finally, because the plant lies along National Airport's flight path, it operates without the tall smokestacks that most plants employ to disperse pollution. These shorter stacks probably invalidate past assumptions and modeling performed at the plant.


U.S. Representative (D-Va.)



Melanie Scarborough argues that Alexandrians should be content to have the Mirant power plant continue operating because the harmful substances it is spewing occur in nature. The substances coming from the plant are sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. When particulate matter is breathed in and ingested, it can cause heart and lung damage.

Ms. Scarborough also argues that the high levels of pollutants cited as coming from the plant can occur only while the plant operates at full capacity. Back in 2001 two longtime North Old Town residents, Poul Hertel and Elizabeth Chimento, were motivated to study particulate matter from the plant -- the primary impetus for all the subsequent governmental actions -- because they noticed the residue all over their neighborhood.

The power plant operated for many years before the residue became so noticeable. Only after Mirant bought the plant from Pepco did the residue set off alarms.