Who pays for air pollution?


Who pays for air pollution?

By Dan Powell

It’s hard to imagine that a nearby coal-fired power plant didn’t cause the lung disease that’s been with me all my life and now has me fighting lung cancer. I now advocate for cleaner air, which will help prevent others from bearing the cost of coal-fired power plants.

Throughout my childhood and into early adulthood, I lived a few miles downwind of a coal-fired power plant. That was before pollution-control scrubbers were installed to curb the harmful particulates, toxins, and oxides. As my condition worsened, I was prevented from playing on the middle school soccer team. No kid wants to be pulled from the field and prevented from making the play. From a young person’s perspective, I couldn’t understand why my body couldn’t push through an asthma attack. But it was quite a task to take the next breath.

Fast forward 20 years, I was living my dream: working as an urban planner, which included co-coordinating air quality outreach and helping create healthier communities. In 2013, I married the girl of my dreams, we bought a home and adopted her 6 year-old son.

Then in early winter of 2014, after what I thought were several back-to-back colds, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Doctors gave me 9-12 months to live. My world crashed around me—both physically and emotionally. As I lay in the hospital bed, I knew I must fight, practice my faith, and help others going through similar experiences.

For the next few days I remained on the hospital’s cancer floor hooked up to machines and monitoring devices. After several sleepless nights, family and prayer chaplain visits, tumor biopsies were sent off. During this time the doctors began to suspect a mutation in my compromised lungs.  It took weeks, but they found the right chemo treatment track. The response was impressive; expectations improved.

But these are treatments—not a cure. And the drug alone costs $115,000 a year. Insurance helps, but doesn’t cover all the cost, making it a financial burden to my family.

These costs don’t get factored in when coal-fired power plants burn higher sulfur content coal. These costs will keep getting pushed on people like me, and the next generation, unless Regional Air Quality Agencies require these coal-fired power plant operators to meet federal minimum health standards.

Lung disease doesn’t discriminate, it can hit anyone who breathes unhealthy air.

About the Author

Dan Powell lives with his wife Becca and son Davis in Greenville, SC, where he leads a lung cancer support group and advocates for cleaner air for all people.