Dr. John Spertus said he wasnt looking
for a cause when he decided to begin speaking out against
the proposed coal-fired power plants outside of Weston
in Platte County.
To hear Spertus tell it, its a moral
obligation. Thats because Spertus, director of
cardiovascular research at St. Lukes Hospitals
Mid America Heart Institute and a professor of the UMKC
School of Medicine, believes the plants will lead to
hundreds of needless deaths in the Kansas City area
I absolutely do believe that. There
is no doubt in my mind, Spertus said. I
cant tell you which person is going to die, but
I can absolutely tell you with utter confidence that
there will be more deaths, more heart attacks, more
congestive heart failure, and more cardiovascular problems
affecting our community with the inclusion of these
On Tuesday night at the Platte City Civic
Center, Spertus got a chance to articulate why his beliefs
should be taken seriously. Spertus had been invited
to sit on a panel of experts at an informational meeting
conducted by the Concerned Citizens of Platte County,
a meeting that saw about 30 people in attendance.
Spertus declared that the study, commissioned
by the Clear the Air Task Force and introduced to the
Kansas City media at a press event staged outside the
Hawthorne power plant by Sierra Club spokesperson Melissa
Blakley, was anything but biased propaganda. In fact,
he said, the data was merely the result of sound, accumulated
research that the scientific community was beginning
Its actually a scientific
treatment by the American Heart Association that has
attempted to really synthesize the worlds literature
on this into a crisp summary, Spertus said.
The study, which has come under fire from
industry officials, purports that power plant pollution
is responsible for 5,069 asthma attacks, 345 heart attacks,
and 191 premature deaths in the Kansas City area alone.
Spertus charged that the proposed Weston
Bend power plants would add to those numbers dramatically
unless KCP&L comes up with a way to obtain
a net reduction in discharging these particles.
In order to do so, Spertus contended that
KCP&L would have to take their dirty plants
completely offline and then put up cleaner burning plants.
Spertus said that such a plan could be possible, but
that he had heard no discussions about that.
KCP&L maintains that their Hawthorne
power plant in Kansas City is the cleanest coal burning
plant in the country and that it is committed to installing
pollution controls at their existing plants. Representatives
from the company have told The Landmark that they did
not plan on putting the best available pollution controls
at their Iatan plant, however, reasoning that the Public
Service Commission (PSC) would not allow them to charge
higher rates to cover such an expense.
As luck would have it, State Representative
Philip Willoughby was in attendance at the Tuesday session.
Willoughby knows a thing or two about the PSC: hes
a member of the house joint committee on utility regulation
and infrastructure investment. And he didnt have
kind words for the system that controls how much Missouris
residents pay for energy.
The PSC, Willoughby explained, was not
in the business of rewarding innovation, efficiency
or providing environmentally sound sources of energy.
Their job was to provide electricity at the lowest
possible price, he said.
Spertus challenged whether or not the
PSC had taken into account the deaths and health problems
suffered in the areas being serviced by coal plants.
Building on his point, he stated that the current Iatan
plant should be shut down and that future plants needed
to be moved to less populated areas, saying that it
was ridiculous to expose a metropolitan area to the
health risks associated with burning coal.
Willoughby agreed, but conceded that the
only way the PSC could change its viewpoint was through
legislation and that such legislation was unlikely to
happen anytime soon.
The legislature has never been clairvoyant,
Willoughby said, illustrating what he described as shortsighted
approach to providing energy. He said that the issue
is often overlooked because it wasnt a squeaky
It its not a campaign issue,
it doesnt get addressed, Willoughby admitted.
After the meeting, Spertus addressed critics
of the anti-power plant movement, rejecting any notion
that he was an alarmist bent on scaring
people from choosing to support the power plant.
All I see myself doing is being
a communicator of the fact-based literature. (To say
that) is to say that the American Heart Association
is an alarmist organization and I dont believe
that. I think theyve been a very strong advocate
for decades of human health and US health in particular,
Spertus said. Im a researcher, Im
a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City,
Im doing a lot of research on the outcomes of
cardiovascular disease. Ive been a very strong
proponent of quality and I would say its my commitment
to quality and improving the outcomes of people with
heart disease that has led me to this cause.
Spertus said he chose to get involved
in the issue because he had made a commitment to practice
what he preached.
If I write (about air pollution)
in scientific journals, if I serve on panels for the
Institute of Medicine, and agencies like that, how could
it be critical of me not to be concerned with my own
community and whats going on in my own backyard?