Every year, the federal government releases data about the toxic releases companies emit into the air or dispose of on land or in water. In the data from 2011 that was just released, the overall emissions for Kentucky continue a general downward trend. But in Jefferson County the most recent data shows that toxic pollution is still about as high as it was in 2004.
Between 2000 and 2011, the toxic emissions in Jefferson County decreased by about 31 percent. But the county’s electrical utilities sector is releasing more pollution than it was 13 years ago.
In this case, “electrical utilities” just refers to Louisville Gas and Electric, because that’s the only company operating in the county. In 2000, LG&E reported more than 5 million pounds of toxic emissions. That number steadily declined until 2004, then shot up again. The most recent data, from 2011, shows the company emitted 6.4 million pounds of pollution.
LG&E spokeswoman Liz Pratt says that’s partly because in 2002 and 2003 the company installed selective catalytic reduction—or SCR equipment—at the Mill Creek power plant.
“SCR equipment, while decreasing some emissions will also result in increases in certain other emissions which must be reported,” she said.
So, while the new equipment cut down the nitrogen oxide from the plant, it increased the sulfuric acid mist emissions. Pratt says other factors that could have increased the pollution the company has to report to the Environmental Protection Agency are:
- A decline in coal combustion byproduct recycling. LG&E’s power plants produce synthetic gypsum as a byproduct, and the company can resell it to other companies to be used in drywall. But with the lagging economy, there’s been less demand for the synthetic gypsum, and it has to be reported to the EPA as a toxic release.
- New environmental rules in 2009 required the company to operate the SCRs year-round, not just during ozone season. So, that’s more sulfuric acid mist.
- The EPA has changed the formula used to calculate and estimate TRI emissions to improve accuracy.
Pratt says in the coming years as the coal-fired Cane Run power plant is retired and more pollution controls are installed at Mill Creek, the emissions will decrease.
After LG&E, the entire chemical industry is categorized as the second-largest emitter in Jefferson County. That industry’s emissions dropped drastically between 2002 and 2003; about half of that reduction came from DuPont’s Louisville plant cutting the amount of chlorodifluoromethane it used by more than 63 percent. By 2011, the chemical industry was responsible for about 27 percent of the county’s total toxic emissions.