Burning Issue, Part 2

Some health experts say the coal plant is a terrible mistake that may cost people their lives.

Dr. Ron Saff, councilmember of the American Lung Association, says, "There is an increased rate of death, disease and cancer. There's increased asthma attacks, hospitalizations, bronchitis. The health risks are overwhelming."

Saff says that's why the Capital Medical Society and the Florida Medical Association have passed resolutions against coal power plants. Mercury is just one chemical that experts say the plant will emit, and what opponents say may even endanger the unborn.

Dr. Don Willis says, "When a woman is pregnant and eats fish, her mercury levels can rise in her blood and get to levels where it can cause brain damage, mental retardation in the baby."

But not everyone agrees that mercury contamination from the plant will have a severe health impact.

Dr. William Landing, Professor of Environmental and Marine Chemistry at Florida State University, says, "The impact of mercury deposition is small. It's on the order of one percent or so that could increase fish mercury levels by about the same factor, which is basically an insignificant amount."

Landing says this is especially true if the plant's design has maximum pollution control. Dr. Chris Teaf, a human health expert for the North Florida Power Plant Project, says the final plant design will emit far less mercury than what current EPA standards allow.

Teaf says, "The numbers will almost certainly come down as the design becomes more and more refined, so we would anticipate it being considerably less."

Dr. Teaf's credibility has been called into question amid reports of a past error that he made about the risk to children of arsenic in wood when hired by the pressure treated wood industry.

"While that issue of the error has been brought to light a number of different times now, it had no effect on that project."

Teaf says he corrected the error after the DEP review. With it all but certain that the coal plant will be built in Taylor County, the question voters in Tallahassee must now answer is, will they have a seat at the table in shaping that plant's future?