PORTSMOUTH — The Sierra Clubs of New Hampshire and Maine are mounting a petition drive urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate sulfur dioxide levels at Schiller Station that they say could be linked to high asthma levels.
The clubs point to a 2011 American Lung Association report indicating that virtually the entire York County, Maine, population of 201,876 is at risk for chronic respiratory and pulmonary illnesses, including asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and cardiovascular disease.
Further, said Glen Brand, director of Sierra Club Maine, York County has failed to meet recent and more stringent sulfur dioxide standards under the Clean Air Act.
He said a recently completed study commissioned by the club indicates spikes in respiratory problems in the New Hampshire-border towns of Kittery, Eliot and South Berwick.
“We took a look at where that pollution is coming from, and it’s no surprise to us that it’s coming from Schiller Station,” he said.
Schiller Station, owned by Public Service of New Hampshire, has three boilers: two that are coal- or oil-fired and one that is wood-fired.
Sulfur dioxide is a cause of acid rain and a major contributor to smog.
Brand said Sierra Club officials from the two states want to get enough signatures on a petition from residents throughout southern York County, as well as in Rockingham County in New Hampshire, to compel the EPA to enforce sulfur dioxide health standards for Schiller Station.
He said the Clean Air Act allows for “cross-state communities” that are “in the plume of pollution to appeal to the EPA to clean up its source.”
These “cross-state” petitions have been successful in recent years. Last October, the EPA granted New Jersey’s request to force a Pennsylvania coal plant to cut emissions that the federal agency determined were worsening air quality in at least three New Jersey counties.
“We can’t control what happens in New Hampshire, but luckily we can do this cross-state appeal,” Brand said.
He said local residents are encouraged to sign the online petition, and added that, in the months to come, residents will also visit boards of selectmen and town councils, seeking participation in writing a letter to the EPA asking the agency to act.
Further, said Catherine Corkery of the New Hampshire chapter of the Sierra Club, this is a good time for the EPA to focus on Schiller Station. New EPA guidelines will soon require PSNH to look at the mercury output at Schiller Station, she said.
Martin Murray, spokesman for PSNH, said that, according the Sierra Club’s own sources, York County has some of the lowest asthma rates in the state of Maine, and he doesn’t understand the club’s logic.
Brand said he never claimed York County had the highest asthma rates in the state, only that the area has recently been determined to not to meet federal health standards.
Murray said PSNH is “proud of Schiller Station,” which has received a series of upgrades and environmental improvements and “meets all state and federal clean air regulations.”
Since the biomass boiler came online five years ago, he said, Schiller Station’s “total annual (sulfur dioxide) emissions have been reduced more than 55 percent, on average, compared to 2005.”