Does news story leave wrong impression about source of pollutants at power plant?

According to accounts in the online Las Vegas Review-Journal that are being updated throughout the day, the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians have released documents showing five years of air monitoring data from the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant “likely had been faked by a contractor hired by the utility to monitor for dust pollution around the plant.”

The first paragraph of the story reports that residents of the nearby Moapa Indian Reservation have complained for years that smoke and blowing coal ash from the NV Energy power plant are making them ill.

The Reid Gardner Generating Station is shown in July 2004 filed photo by R-J photog Gary Thompson.

The story quotes tribal Chairman William Anderson as saying in a written statement: “So many days when coal dust and ash has whipped into homes in our community it turns out NV Energy wasn’t even measuring the pollution, so we have no gauge on the extent of the threat families here have been exposed to.”

NV Energy CEO Michael Yackira issued a statement that included this: “It is essential to note that the data in question is utilized for air shed modeling and is not relied upon for compliance purposes.”

Wait a minute, that sounds like the data in question was about dust kicked up in the air at the plant and surrounding farming activities and not coming from the smokestack at all.

In fact when the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection released a statement about the R-J story, it noted that the false reports were about meteorological and ambient air quality monitoring for large particulates called PM10.

NDEP went on to add: “Stack emissions monitoring was conducted as required on a continuous basis on all four units between 2006 and 2010. Based on this direct and continuous measurement of emissions and process parameters, as required in the Air Quality permit, the facility is in compliance with all state and federal air quality standards and permit limitations and conditions.”

Just to be sure, I asked an NV Energy spokesman whether dust in question might include coal dust from stockpiles on the ground or from coal being moved via conveyor belts. He replied that in theory it could be, but that the distance between the monitoring station and the coal piles makes it very unlikely.

Apparently, the dust in the air is no different from that kicked up at any outdoor work site — construction, warehouse, solar panels, plowing fields, etc. The fact that it is a coal-fired power plant may be of no relevance.

But you can count on Harry Reid to try to make hay out of this dust in the wind.

23 comments on “Does news story leave wrong impression about source of pollutants at power plant?

  1. Steve says:

    That plant is 50 years old. No PV or wind is expected to last even half that time. One would think symptoms of coal ash poisoning should have shown themselves long ago, specially as smoke stack filtering was not in existence in the early days…

  2. Vernon Clayson says:

    Or maybe Harry will change his mind several times as he did with the deaths and injuries of the Marines training in Hawthorne. His increasingly bizarre commentary and conduct might be seen as intricate politics but it’s more likely his mental acuity is lagging, it might as simple as him forgetting that this area of southern Nevada is mostly desert and dust happens. If his humble abode in Searchlight didn’t have a caretaker the interior would be covered with dust inside and out in a few months.

  3. Rincon says:

    I’m not an expert, but I’ve read that the size of the particles would reveal the source. The particulates from combustion tend to be much smaller than those of blowing dust. I believe the smaller particles are far more damaging because they penetrate more deeply into the lungs. They also don’t settle out of the air as qiuckly as the larger particles. That’s why dust is less dangerous than particulate emissions. That being said, large amounts of dust can be dangerous too; hence, black and brown lung disease.

  4. This is southern Nevada. Dust is everywhere.


  5. Rincon says:

    You missed it, Thomas. Read closer.

  6. How about a hint, Rincon.


  7. Steve says:

    I think Rincon is agreeing medical symptoms do not have to be from coal ash. Dust alone can cause them and even if that plant is shut down it may do nothing to improve the lives of the residents because the dusty conditions will remain.

  8. Rincon says:

    Sorry Thomas. I didn’t mean to be flip about it. Steve’s right. If I remember this correctly, smaller particles would likely be from the smokestack. Large ones are probably dust blown by the wind. Dust is far less hazardous, but as with all pollution, the amount or concentration is crucial. The source has to be determined before any action should be taken. The article says the complaint is about smoke and blowing coal ash, so I don’t think there’s enough information to judge.

  9. Steve says:

    Today that stack is no longer smoking. It emits steam. Pictures hyped on this are of steam on cold damp days in the winter months usually early mornings.

    For 10 years I have driven to Utah for work. Those day trips started early, 0500 or so, this way I could complete the job and come home with some time left in the day.
    Every time I made these trips I saw steam from the river during those cooler months. Plant running or not. I could tell the plant was running when the hot steam rose into the inversion layer. The steam would evaporate almost immediately, cut off like a knife was continually slicing it. On hot dry days the steam appears to evaporate almost inches from the mouth of the stack.

    Unfiltered coal smoke used to be black, it would hang in the air forever trailing off in the distance. I could follow it to its source easily. I remember it, as a child, from the 1960’s in (of all places) Massachusetts.

    I say again any medical issues from the plant in question should have been evident for decades and traceable back to the source. None of this is being reported. Hmmm.

  10. Rincon says:

    The Indians claim that the pollution reports from the plant have been systematically falsified.
    The judge will have to decide if it’s true or false.

    It is certainly possible that a fair amount of particulates come out of the stack. The finest, most dangerous particles are a lot smaller than the smallest cells in your body (the brain has about a hundred billion), and are essentially invisible until the numbers become gigantic. Seems like the first step is to have someone come out and measure the present output. Do you think a judge would be that practical?

  11. Steve says:

    Yes, they have just begun making those claims.
    I have to wonder. Why just now? Why not decades ago. That plant is 50 years old!

  12. Article quoted a tribal spokesman saying there was blowing coal dust.

    The agency that monitors the plant said the smokestacks were in compliance.

    So the ambient air dust could have been kicked up anywhere. The fact that is was at coal plant was irrelevant. It could have been at solar panel farm where thousands of acres have been graded flat the desert patina destroyed.


  13. Rincon says:

    It hinges on the ability to prove that emissions were falsified. Innocent until proven guilty.

  14. It was not about “emissions.” It was ambient air. Dust. And the contractor apparently kept entering the same numbers on the form every day. The air might have been fine.


  15. Rincon says:

    Or it might not have been. If measurements were falsified, I would never just assume that everything was all OK. People usually don’t take the time and effort to complain at an official level unless they think they have a case.

    The first paragraph of the story reports that “residents of the nearby Moapa Indian Reservation have complained for years that smoke and blowing coal ash from the NV Energy power plant have been making them ill”. Smoke usually comes from a smokestack.

    The “for years” may answer Steve’s question.

    I also suspect that dust from coal ash may differ substantially in appearance from that of blowing dirt. If true, the residents may have accurately identified the source.

  16. Steve says:

    Years translates to Decades? In this case 5 of them? And my question includes why just now? Why not decades ago?

  17. Vernon Clayson says:

    Add to the alleged horrors there’s the so-called valley fever, a condition believed to be caused by dried out rodent droppings flying in dusty winds. And how many people living near the coal plant attribute their illness to lungs weakened by smoking? Before mankind the wind kicked up dust, only in imagination has air been pristine, balance is only in laboratory settings and can’t be . The ancestors of the Moapa band moved on when their spot of land played out, they can’t do that now, their space was assigned/limited by the same government that placed the coal plant. And the same government is using the issue to beget their green energy agenda that will enrich some and leave the Moapa band out there in the wind and dust with the ruins of a plant and rusting machinery; Goldfield comes to mind, so does the abandoned ruins of mines and machines around Harry Reid’s fabled hometown of Searchlight.

  18. Imagine how much dust will be stirred up when they bulldoze 2,000 acres of desert on the reservation to erect 900,000 solar panels for the K-Road solar farm.


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  21. […] While Harry was blaming every sniffle experienced by those living near the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant, it made no difference that the smokestacks met all state and federal clean air standards and the real pollution was from blowing dust. […]

  22. […] to be sure, I asked an NV Energy spokesman whether the dust in question might include coal dust from stockpiles on the ground or from coal […]

  23. Wendy Ellis says:

    The Band of Paiutes have been had.

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