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Report: Florida is one of three states with most toxic air

A new report out by the National Resources Defense Council lists Florida as the third worst states for toxic air pollution in the nation, making the list as one of the nation's Toxic 20.

The primary source of Florida's dirty air is coal and oil-fired electric power plants, which emitted 33.4 million pounds of harmful chemicals in 2009 and accounted for 68 percent of the state's pollution, according to the latest federal Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data, which identifies the 20 states with the most toxic air pollution from electric power plants.

Although most of Florida gets its electricity from natural gas or nuclear power generating electrical plants, the amount of dirty air that comes from coal and oil-fired plants exceeds the pollution from other states that are more dependent on those plants but have taken greater steps to clean up the pollution.

Why should the public care?

“Poisonous power threatens the health of our kids and families,'' said Lynn Ringenberg, a pediatrician at the University of South Florida and founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "Air toxics from coal-fired power plants cause cancer, birth defects, and respiratory illness. Just one of those air toxics, mercury, damages the developing brains of fetuses, infants, and small children. It robs our children of healthy neurological development and native intelligence."

Ringenberg said acid gases form sulfur dioxide and metals and pollutants adhere to the particles. They travel great distances and “can affect a lot of people.” The pollutants disproportionately affect poor communities and people of color, she said.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is seeking new standards for air pollution but proposals pending before Congress seek to postpone or block those rules. Many utilities, including those in Florida, are seeking to delay and block the measures.

The Public Service Commission last week echoed the concerns of the utility industry that the proposed air toxics rule would cost too much -- estimated at between $4 billion to $6 billion a year. Read more here.

Dan Lashof, Climate Center Director at NRDC, the rules were mandated by the 1990 Clean Air Act but have been delayed for decades. "The argument that the power industry needs more time are “absolutely baseless,” he said.

Implementing the standards will save up to 1,700 lives a year, 120,000 cases of asthma per year and help to prevent thousands of other diseases. The NRDC is following the progress of the legislation before Congress at its website,

The plants with the worst record in Florida are:

* Southern Company's Crist and Lansing Smith plants

* Progress Energy's Crystal River plant

* JEA and NextEra's St. John's River plant

* Seminole Electric Coop's Seminole plant

 * Orlando Utilities Stanton plant

* Tampa Electric's Big Bend plant.