Speakers at a forum hosted by the Sierra Club Wednesday evening blamed the Veolia Energy power plant near downtown Kansas City for contributing to dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide air pollution in the area.
Health, environmental and religious leaders gathered in the Columbus Park neighborhood near the plant to discuss health concerns raised by emissions from Veolia and other coal plants in Missouri.
“We are here because sulfur dioxide is poisoning our air," said Gretchen Barwick, the Sierra Club's conservation program coordinator. "And we are here because it’s poisoning our communities.”
Doctors from Children’s Mercy Hospital explained that sulfur dioxide pollution can cause breathing difficulties, worsen asthma, emphysema and bronchitis, and aggravate heart disease.
“Imagine if you were laying down on the floor and a four-hundred-pound gorilla sat on your chest,” said local resident Sarah Campbell, who suffers from asthma.
In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared part of Jackson County to be a so-called nonattainment area because of its levels of sulfur dioxide pollution, which is created by the burning of fossil fuels. The area in question has about 54,000 inhabitants, according to the Sierra Club.
Jefferson County, part of the St. Louis metropolitan area, is the only other Missouri county designated as a nonattainment area by the EPA because of high sulfur dioxide levels.
Kyra Moore, program director for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, told the 50 or so people attending the forum at the Don Bosco Senior Center that the Veolia plant has until January 2017 to lower emission levels that meet standards established by the EPA under the Clean Air Act.
But the Sierra Club wants to see change come sooner.
The group distributed a petition addressed to the Missouri Air Conservation Commission urging a reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions as quickly as possible.
It also encouraged the commission to disseminate information about the health effects of pollution and to review pollution levels at other coal plants in the region.
The group plans to deliver the petition on Sept. 25.
Joyce Harms, a spokeswoman for Veolia Energy, which is based in Milwaukee, Wis., said Wednesday afternoon that the Kansas City plant consistently operated below its permit emission levels.
“In spite of that, we are working with the state on the shared goal of cleaner air in the Kansas City area with an eye toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and criteria pollutants even further in the coming years,” Harms said.