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York County Ranks as the 12th Highest Toxic Air Polluter Among Virginia Localities
By Shelby Mertens

The Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club released a report titled the "Top 15 Virginia Localities with the Highest Toxic Air Emissions," which ranked York County as 12th in the state, with a total of 429,000 pounds of toxic chemicals released in 2012.

The data was taken from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory, established under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986. By law, facilities that produce more than 25,000 pounds or handle more than 10,000 pounds of any substance on the EPA's list of 650 toxic chemicals must submit their emissions data to the EPA.

Margaret Carmel, who helped compile the EPA's data for the Sierra Club's report, said York County made the list because of Dominion Virginia Power's Yorktown Power Station, which burns coal.

"York County was on the list because it's home to a Dominion power plant," Carmel said. "Whenever you burn coal, it produces hydrochloric acid, ammonia and sulfuric acid" they're (the chemicals) irritants to the lungs, eyes and skin."

According to the data, out of the 429,000 pounds of toxic chemicals emitted in York County, 395,894, or 92 percent, came from the Yorktown Power Station.

James City County also made the list taking the 11th spot. While Newport News did not crack into the top 15, it was however, included in the report. According to the data, the city of Newport News released 330,480 pounds of toxics in 2012, the 20th highest in Virginia.

The report notes that in Newport News, the "release of toxics in the city's southeast community is concentrated to such a large extent in the area that it has alarmed residents."

The Newport News Shipyard is the largest contributor of toxic chemical release in the area, along with Interstate 664, commercial port operations and other industrial operations located nearby.

Covington, a small town in Virginia's Appalachian region, topped the list with 3 million pounds of toxic chemicals emitted. For perspective, the entire Hampton Roads region released roughly 3.5 million pounds of toxics. The metropolitan Richmond area produced about 7.5 million pounds total.

Virginia ranked 22nd in the nation in total toxic emissions and 37th in per capital emissions. However, the report states that some Virginia localities have a disproportionate amount of toxic air compared to the statewide number.

According to an article from the Associated Press in 2011, Virginia Dominion Power is likely to close one of the Yorktown Power Station's coal units by 2015, while the other unit would be converted to natural gas.

Because it takes two years to gather, analyze and release the EPA's TRI data, Carmel predicts that York County will not appear in the top 15 list by 2017, if the Yorktown Power Station converts to natural gas.

Carmel said the EPA has been pressuring coal-burning facilities to switch to natural gas for years.

"Right now, a lot of power plants are being shutdown or they're being swapped over to natural gas, which is cleaner," she said. "New federal regulations are making it harder for coal-power plants to comply with the rules since they're (the EPA) concerned about toxic air."

"A lot of it is just companies switching over because it's the right thing to do," Carmel added.

Dominion Virginia Power has been cooperative with EPA regulations and states on their website that they're committed to environmental stewardship and responsibility.

Carmel said the Sierra Club hopes the report will bring more awareness to environmental concerns.

"The purpose of this report is to show citizens what they're breathing and that it's more effecting to their health than what they think," she said.

The Yorktown Crier | Poquoson Post reached out to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to comment on the report and the DEQ responded, "This is an opportunity for people to be aware of the chemicals entering the environment in their communities. The air emissions described in the report are covered under state and federal permits, which are designed to minimize pollutants while protecting people's health and the environment."

The full report can be viewed at and more information about the EPA's TRI data can be found at


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