Large parts of Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties may be exposed to sulfur dioxide emissions that violate national air quality standards, the Environmental Protection Agency said last week.
The agency said areas within 35.5 kilometers of the Herbert A. Wagner Generating Station in Pasadena could be designated as "nonattainment," or not meeting national standards.
"Exposure to (sulfur dioxide) can cause a range of adverse health effects, including narrowing of the airways which can cause difficulty breathing and increased asthma symptoms," EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin wrote in a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan.
The letter was a response to Hogan's recommendation that the area surrounding the Wagner plant be designated as "attainment." The EPA will announce official designations by July 2. The public is invited to provide input before then, the EPA letter states.
If the "nonattainment" designation is finalized, the state will be required to establish a state implementation plan, an outline of steps to be taken to improve air quality, according to the EPA.
The Maryland Department of the Environment intends to challenge the EPA's preliminary decision, said MDE spokesman Jay Apperson.
"Maryland's air quality has improved significantly in recent years," he said.
Maryland power plants have invested $2.6 billion in technology to comply with the Maryland Healthy Air Act, which has helped control emissions of pollutants like sulfur dioxide, he said.
"These actions show that Maryland has taken, and continues to take, a strong regulatory stance against air pollution to protect public health," he said.
David Smedick, a spokesman for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, said he hopes the EPA's proposal encourages the state to step up efforts to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants.
"Marylanders need MDE to get these critical clean air protections across the finish line to avoid a formal nonattainment designation and protect the health and safety of our communities," he said.
Todd Martin, a spokesman for Talen Energy, which owns the Wagner plant, said the company has not violated industrial air quality rules.