North Carolina has some of the nation's most toxic air pollution, according a list of the top 20 states with air pollution issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
This state ranks 10th in the nation for power plant pollutants such as mercury, hydrochloric acid and other hazardous materials. The NRDC based its ranking on the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory from 2009.
The NRDC issued the data today as part of the environmental lobby's attempt to undercut conservative efforts in Washington to weaken EPA regulations. Conservatives have expressed concern that pollution restrictions impose financial burdens on businesses and are therefore harmful to the economy.
The NRDC report gives a one-year snapshot, suggesting the problem is dire. However, the EPA's web site shows that levels of airborne toxins -- which contribute to asthma, birth defects and other health issues -- dropped in North Carolina in 2009 to one-third the levels of 2002, falling from about 97 million pounds to about 34 million pounds.
An NRDC spokeswoman said the toxins should be eliminated from the atmosphere altogether.
Coal-burning power plants, which account for more than half this state's electricity, are among the nation's biggest sources of industrial pollution and account for 49 percent of North Carolina's toxic pollution.
Both Progress Energy and Duke Energy have plans to close older, dirtier coal plants.
Raleigh-based Progress is replacing 11 coal plants with natural gas fired generation while Charlotte-based Duke is building what it calls a state-of-the-art coal-fired plant at its Cliffside complex in the Appalachian foothills.