Asthma a concern
for power plant opponents
by Mark Vasto
By his own admission, Vince Magers and his family
moved to Platte County from Jackson County four
years ago for the county's great schools, parks,
trails and green space. The answer to any prospective
homeowner's dreams, he valued the good neighborhoods
and their rising property values.
Now, faced with the prospect of Great Plains Energy's
power plant expansion in the area, Magerswho
lives in the Kansas City portion of Platte Countysays
he has one burning question: "What good is
any of that if the air isn't fit to breathe?
For while both Magers' wife and 10-year old son
were diagnosed with asthma before moving to the
county, Magers claims that since moving to Platte
County the frequency and severity of their asthma
attacks has gotten worse.
"My wife never used an inhaler before moving
here, and now she takes one everywhere and uses
it regularly," Magers said. "Before
moving here my son had an inhaler but rarely had
to use it. Now he has to take it everywhere he
goes. As a parent, there's nothing that scares
you more than seeing your child struggling to
Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that
makes breathing difficult. In general, asthma
is caused when an irritant affects the lungs,
causing the body to release a mass amount of antibodies,
thus jamming the bronchial cavity and making it
hard to draw in enough oxygen to replenish the
Asthma has many triggers - including genetics,
second-hand tobacco smoke, mold, dander and stress
- although air pollution has recently been singled
out as a significant cause of the disease.
"There is an association between asthma
symptoms and ground level ozone, nitrogen oxide
and particulate matter," explained Dr. Jay
Portnoy, section chief of allergy, asthma and
immunology at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas
City. Coal-fired power plants, such as the ones
being proposed in Platte County, are considered
to be a leading cause of such pollutants in the
"The second most common reason for visiting
Children's Mercy is for asthma, the first reason
being premature birth," Dr. Portnoy said.
"The second most common reason for an emergency
room trip is asthma, the first is the common cold.
Dr. Portnoy said that in addition to health risks,
asthma presents real financial and social impacts
on communities as well. He cited a recent study
by the American Lung Association which asserted
there were nearly 80,000 cases of asthma in the
Kansas City region, 23,500 of which belonged to
children. He said the annual cost of medical care
for asthma in the region was approximately $34
million and that the individual cost per child
varied due to varying health plans.
Dr. Portnoy said that while Kansas City's air
was generally clean, he said the increase in air
pollution led many more in the region to feel
sicker than people would in other, more polluted
areas, like Orange County, California.
"There they are used to being sick (as a
result of air pollution) so they probably don't
notice it as much," Dr. Portnoy said. "Here,
we're used to being well, so we're more aware
when we're not.
Dr. Portnoy acknowledged the advances made in
power plant environmental controls. He speculated
that Platte County would be better off with the
new power plant, and getting rid of the existing
older power plant at Iatan.
"Anything you can do to reduce the particulate
matter would be good for public health,"
Dr. Portnoy said.
With a second child on the way in May, Magers
said he and his wife are concerned about the effects
air pollution may have on an infant. Like many
other residents, he expressed frustration with
the lack of facts on the matter coming from Great
Plains Power and its sister company, KCP&L.
"Kansas City Power & Light has always
presented itself as a hometown Kansas City company.
To me, that means they owe it to the people of
this community to complete a detailed health assessment
of the risks posed by two large coal-fired plants,"
Magers said. "We're not scientists, but common
sense tells you two plants of the size they have
proposed can only worsen air quality.
More than 100 area residents attended two awareness
sessions hosted by the Concerned Citizens of Platte
County in Camden Point and Leavenworth over the
past week. Many of the people who came to the
meetings echoed Magers' call for a detailed assessment.
Although sources have told The Landmark that Great
Plains Power had representatives at the meetings,
nobody from the company addressed the crowd on
the matter. Great Plains failed to return phone
calls placed to their "24-hour media hotline"
in time for this article.
Currently, Great Plains Power has only offered
environmental assessments (EA's), and not full
blown environmental impact statements (EIS's)
on the power plant project. EA's are typically
10-15 pages in length and are generally used by
regulatory agencies such as the Department of
Natural Resources and Army Corps of Engineers
to determine whether or not an EIS is warranted.
Significantly, an EA must be made available for
public inspection (typically at local libraries)
but not public comment.
An EIS would also force Great Plains Power to
consider secondary and cumulative effects of the
power plant. According to the Department of Energy,
secondary impacts are those effects that are expected
to be "caused" by the proposed action
but are later in time or are removed in distance,
but are still reasonably foreseeable. Concerned
area residents are hoping this section would contain
information on assorted health risks.
The deal made between Platte County and Great
Plains Power does technically hinge on the environmental
soundness of the project, but the language does
not spell out what Great Plains Power must do
to satisfy the demand.
County Commissioner Steve Wegner said that the
county had to leverage the resources of the government
when considering such a project.
"Those people have a passion for what they're
doing, they just want to do it right, according
to statutes, and I hope they'll steer us in the
right direction," Wegner told The Landmark.
"The county doesn't have the expertise or
the financial wherewithal that the state has in
this matter. The state is the permit holder --
not the county.
Wegner said the county could not by law put more
demands on Great Plains Power than was required
by the state, essentially making it illegal to
require an EIS from them. When asked if the commission
would request such a study in good faith from
Great Plains Power, Wegner said he was unsure
if they would. He did promise to take action if
an assessment did come back with an excessively
"If there came a study that said 'this is
gonna kill Platte Countians,' no commissioner
would sign off on that," Wegner said.
Wegner also expressed surprise at the media coverage
of the proposed plant and concerned citizens such
as Magers who have become increasingly vocal as
"What I want to know is, why haven't they
been protesting the Iatan plant like crazy for
the past 20 somewhat years?"