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How Close Do You Live to Toxic Coal Emissions?

A new interactive map from the Sierra Club lets you see just how close you and your loved ones live to the toxic emissions from coal-burning plants.

The Sierra Club's brilliant and effective Beyond Coal campaign just released this new interactive map that shows the location of every coal plant in the country.

Of the 614 coal-burning power plants in the United States, 491 lack the modern pollution controls that keep pollutants like mercury and arsenic out of the local air and water. These old, polluting coal plants emit 78,367 pounds of mercury every year. While that might not sound like a tremendous amount (when we're so used to pollutants being measured in thousands and millions of tons), remember what a potently toxic substance mercury is. As the Sierra Club notes, "less than one teaspoon of mercury can contaminate an entire lake."

Through the map, you can click on the individual plants and see how just how many pounds or tons of various pollutants—mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and carbon dioxide—are released every year, and how many people live within five miles of the plant.

Here's what the stats look like for Portsmouth, New Hampshire's Schiller plant—the closest coal plant to where I grew up. My home was far enough away (and upwind) that we wouldn't have lived with the effects of this plant, but there are literally millions of Americans that are exposed to coal plant pollution. The Sierra Club's site also has information about ways to protect your local air and water, by the way.

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