In this video adapted from Earth Island Institute, meet Marisol, a high school student from Little Village in Chicago. Hear about how she volunteered within her community and found out about the toxins produced by the local coal-burning power plant. Learn about some of the health risks associated with such pollution, and observe how she helped create OurMap of Environmental Justice, an interactive online map that includes videos, facts, and descriptions of toxic pollutants in the community.
Coal is an abundant and relatively inexpensive source of fuel that is widely used all over the world. It is easy to store and transport, and as a result, coal-burning power stations can be located almost anywhere. Coal-burning power plants currently generate about half of the electricity used in the United States. However, coal is also a very dirty source of energy—the emissions from coal-burning power plants create air and water pollution, adversely affecting the environment and human health.
The combustion of coal produces a variety of pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, mercury, and particulate matter. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides react with other gases and particles in the atmosphere to produce acidic compounds that fall back to the ground as acid rain. Nitrogen oxides also react to form ozone, which is the primary component of smog. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Air pollution from coal plants has been found to cause health problems such as respiratory illnesses (including bronchitis and asthma) and heart attacks; additionally, mercury exposure is associated with neurological and developmental problems.
As seen in the video, people who live near a coal-burning power plant are forced to breathe unhealthy, polluted air. Chicago is home to two coal-burning power plants that have been around since the early twentieth century. Because of the high population density in the area, more people live near these two power plants than live near any other coal-burning power plant in the country. Thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are emitted by the plants each year, along with millions of tons of carbon dioxide. Pollution from these plants is estimated to be responsible for thousands of asthma attacks and hundreds of emergency room visits annually. Furthermore, these plants have been cited for violating emissions standards, despite being subject to more lenient pollution standards than newer plants are because they were already operating when legislation to control air pollution was put into place.
To protect human health and the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards for permissible levels of common air pollutants. To monitor air quality, sites throughout the country look at ambient concentrations of six widespread pollutants, known as criteria pollutants: particulate matter, ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead. State environmental agencies also keep track of the quantity of pollutants released from individual sources. The EPA maintains databases about emissions and ambient air quality; anyone can access this air pollution data (including reports and maps) on the AirData Web site. The EPA is also in the process of developing a tool to help communities make sense of environmental health risks; C-FERST, the Community-Focused Exposure and Risk-Screening Tool, will provide fact sheets, maps, and other tools to educate users about environmental health issues.
Academic standards correlations on Teachers' Domain use the Achievement Standards Network (ASN) database of state and national standards, provided to NSDL projects courtesy of JES & Co.
We assign reference terms to each statement within a standards document and to each media resource, and correlations are based upon matches of these terms for a given grade band. If a particular standards document of interest to you is not displayed yet, it most likely has not yet been processed by ASN or by Teachers' Domain. We will be adding social studies and arts correlations over the coming year, and also will be increasing the specificity of alignment.