Potential Health Impacts
SEPTA’s proposed natural gas plant would release toxic pollution into the air, harming the health of community residents, SEPTA workers, and students and teachers at nearby schools. Pollutants released by plants like this have been found to contribute to and exacerbate asthma and heart disease. In addition, they have been been linked to dementia, premature births, impaired cognitive development in children, diabetes, and other problems.
Nicetown residents deserve a full accounting of the health impacts of this plant.
Who Would Be Affected by Pollution from the Plant?
Approximately 37,000 people live within 1 mile of the proposed power plant. The plant would be located just a few blocks from:
- Wissahickon Charter School, Steel Elementary, Simon Gratz High School, & Grover Cleveland School
- Abbottsford-Falls Community Health Center and Hunting Park Health Center
- The Salvation Army’s Kroc Center
- Fernhill Park
In addition, several hundred SEPTA employees work out of the Midvale Depot and the nearby Roberts Yard. We cannot be sure how far the pollution emitted by the plant would travel, but people located closest to the plant would be the worst affected.
Air Quality is Already Poor in Nicetown
Nicetown is already burdened with air pollution from SEPTA’s Midvale Bus Depot (a facility that houses 300 diesel buses), the Roosevelt Expressway, and freight trains that carry crude oil to the South Philly refinery, as well as from sources father away, like the refinery and the Brunner Island coal-fired power plant in York County.
- According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the neighborhood in which the plant would be located has more particulate pollution than 82% of neighborhoods across the country.
- Nearly 1 in 3 children in the 19140 zip code have been diagnosed with asthma (Philadelphia Health Management Corporation, 2012).
- This is higher than the overall asthma rate for children in Philadelphia (23.6%), Southeastern PA (18%), and the United States (8.6%), per CDC, 2014. The running club at one of the schools keeps a bag of inhalers handy at all times — this is what 23.6% looks like.
Some additional facts about air quality and health in our city and the region:
- Philadelphia is the 3rd worst place in the U.S. for people who suffer from asthma (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America).
- The Philadelphia region has the 12th worst particulate pollution of any city in the country (American Lung Association).
- Philadelphia does not currently meet EPA health standards for fine particulate pollution and ground-level ozone.
What Pollutants Would the Plant Emit?
Though natural gas is marketed as a “clean” fuel, power plants of this type emit toxic pollution, including:
- Nitrogen oxides (NOx) – NOx contributes to the formation of ground -level ozone, also called smog. Ozone is linked to a range of respiratory illnesses including to the development of childhood asthma.
- Particulate Matter – Contribute to or exacerbate asthma and heart disease. There is strong evidence linking particulates to dementia, impaired cognitive development in children, premature births, and other problems. The World Health Organization says there is no safe level of exposure.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – Can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and skin problems. Higher concentrations may cause irritation of the lungs, as well as damage to the liver, kidney, or central nervous system.
- Ultrafine Particulates – These particles are not yet regulated by the EPA, but many studies suggest that they are especially harmful to human health and that they are emitted in large quantities by natural gas power plants.
While the health impacts that the gas plant would have can’t be easily quantified, Nicetown is already burdened with far too much pollution.
We don’t need more of it.