A New Study Discovers Approximately Two Daily Premature Deaths are Caused by Industrial Plant Flaring and Venting


Remember when you were a kid and you thought the neighborhood power plant was just a giant torch? Well, now we know it’s a straight-up health hazard. New research shows flaring and venting processes at these sites cause about two premature deaths daily, lead to thousands of childhood asthma exacerbations, and cost the U.S. a whopping $7.4 billion annually in health damages. Even worse, emissions seem to be 15 times higher than what’s reported, and flaring’s health burdens hit Latine and Indigenous communities hardest. So, next time you see that big flame, know it’s not a torch — it’s a ticking time bomb.

Meeka Outlaw’s Childhood and Exposure to Climate Change

Philadelphia native, Meeka Outlaw, spent her youth sandwiched between an oil refinery and an electrical power plant. Though she initially found the sight of a huge torch from the refinery fascinating, her mother’s lack of enthusiasm began to make sense as she learned about climate change in school. Unknown to her at the time, she was observing flaring and venting, the processes used to burn off or release excess natural gas.

Study on Flaring Impacts

A recent study uncovered that not only does flaring pollute surrounding communities, but it also causes approximately two premature deaths each day. Published in the peer-reviewed journal Geohealth, the study also linked flaring and venting to increased emergency room visits, worsened asthma in children, and a cost of around $7.4 billion annually in health damages to the U.S.

Study Findings

The study discovered that emissions were up to 15 times higher for fine particulate matter and twice as high for sulfur dioxides than reported to federal officials. Texas, Pennsylvania, and Colorado accounted for about 45 percent of the people adversely affected by these activities. Venting and flaring reportedly led to over 73,000 asthma exacerbations in children and 710 premature deaths each year. The most concerning finding, researchers said, was the role of pollutants in exacerbating childhood asthma.

Effects of Pollutants

Surprising to many, nitrogen dioxide, a common pollutant, was attributed to a significant quantity of asthma exacerbations. Of the 710 yearly premature deaths linked to flaring and venting pollution, around 120 were directly attributable to nitrogen dioxide. The study also found that the air quality health burdens from flaring and venting disproportionately impacted Latine and Indigenous communities.

Technologies to Reduce Flaring and Venting

There are available technologies that could significantly reduce or eliminate flaring and venting. However, the implementation of these technologies faces resistance, as evidenced by a lawsuit filed by Texas challenging the new EPA methane rule.

Community Health Impacts Remain

In Philadelphia, those living in the Grays Ferry community, including Outlaw, have long believed their proximity to the now-closed refinery and other potential environmental hazards have led to higher rates of ailments such as asthma and cancer. Despite the closure of the refinery near Outlaw’s childhood home, residents assert that the health impacts remain. The struggle for residents is how to fight against these wrongs without the necessary backing.

Original Story at insideclimatenews.org