More problematic than natural gas is the fuel oil it is cut with during peak demand. The facility’s oil-fired generators operate as a peaking power plant when demand on the grid is particularly high.
“Just when the environmental quality is already poor outside, this factory is turning on and causing further air pollution,” said Dr Joan Casey, professor of environmental health sciences at the Mailman School. of Public Health from Columbia.
The immediate area surrounding the plant is most at risk, Casey added. Power stations have emission controls, but these only kick in when the generator is fully operational, which takes a few hours. Before that, there are a lot of emissions leaking out until these controls start working.
“Because this unit operates as a peak and cycles off and on, this type of off-on cycle results in higher emissions than if it were running all the time,” Casey said. “Oil does not burn as cleanly as natural gas.”
Burning fuel oil releases black carbon and particulates (PM2.5), which have a wide range of negative health impacts including respiratory, cardiovascular and birth problems. It is also linked to dementia and mental health.
More than 6,400 NYCHA apartments surround Ravenswood Generating – Queensbridge Houses to the southeast, Astoria Houses to the north and Ravenswood Houses a few blocks to the east. More than 1.2 million people live within three miles of the facility, nearly half are people of color.
Coger, the longtime resident of Astoria Houses, said three of her four grandchildren and her two great-grandchildren all had severe asthma that required breathing machines and medication. All three generations grew up in Astoria Houses.
“As far as I’m concerned, it [Ravenswood smoke stacks] is a toxic skyscraper,” Coger said.
A zero-emissions Ravenswood could have an immediate and profound effect on the thousands of low-income residents living around the facility. In a 2018 study, Casey analyzed the impacts of taking oil and coal-fired power plants offline and found improvements in preterm birth rates among pregnant women living nearby compared to those living slightly further away. Harvard researchers found that with every additional microgram per cubic meter of fine particulate pollution, COVID deaths increased by 8% nationwide.
“It’s huge,” Casey said. “We have the highest population density of any US city, we shouldn’t have a fossil fuel power plant in New York. It’s crazy from a public health perspective.
The Queens Power Station also releases about 1.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually from its site, or 0.56 percent of the state’s total carbon emissions in 2019. That’s an improvement over compared to when the facility was emitting nearly three times as much in 2016.