FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- Cancer, heart, respiratory, neurodegenerative diseases, and even death. Researchers say they are all caused by pollutants emitted by a coal-fired power plant in Fort Bend County. But a new Environmental Protection Agency rule is under review that could cut those pollutants down.
The WA Parish Plant in Richmond, Texas, is the largest coal-fired power plant in the state. Approximately 100 of the plant's 330 full-time employees live in Fort Bend County. However, research indicates their livelihood may be killing them.
"(The plant is) the second largest contributor of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter in the state," Alondra Torres, climate justice coordinator at Air Alliance Houston, explained.
In 2018, a research group led by a Rice University scientist attributed almost 180 premature deaths a year to particulate matter emitted from the W.A. Parish Plant.
Cancer, specifically lung cancer, is a leading cause of death in Fort Bend and Harris County, according to a 2016-2019 Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital report.
Last year, a Fort Bend County health assessment linked cardiovascular, neurodegenerative and respiratory diseases to air pollution.
"My mother died from asthma here in 2013, in Fort Bend County. I have asthma, and I know plenty of people over here have asthma," Donna Thomas, who runs the group Fort Bend Environmental, said.
Public comment on "the regional haze rule" is open until Aug. 2. It is a revision of a 2017 EPA measure intended to reduce industrial haze in national parks created by coal-fired power plants like WA Parish.
If passed, the EPA predicts it will decrease sulfur dioxide emissions by 80,000 tons per year. In turn, it is improving air quality in neighborhoods like Thomas'. The WA Parish Plant gives off about 34,000 tons of sulfur dioxide per year.
In a statement, an NRG spokesperson told ABC13 the following:
"NRG is assessing the proposed EPA regional haze rule and the impact it could have on WA Parish Units 5 and 6, and will provide responses to the EPA during the public comment period. WA Parish continues to comply with standards as they evolve, and the air quality in the area around the facility and Fort Bend County are attaining the federal SO2 air quality standard. We have questions regarding the modeling used by the EPA in developing the rule."
"...WA Parish plays a vital role in providing much needed power in the ERCOT market, especially during the extended hot weather that we've experienced this summer," the spokesperson added.