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Arapahoe Generating Station, Denver, Colorado

The Arapahoe Generating Station was built in Denver, Colorado in 1950. It is a coal-burning plant, which means it burns coal to heat water until it releases steam, which is then used to power electricity-generating turbines. The water used by the Arapahoe Generating Station comes from the South Platte River. Used water is carefully filtered before being released back into the water source.

Over the years, people have become increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of the Arapahoe Station and other coal-burning plants. When coal is burned, it releases a number of byproducts into the air, including several different kinds of greenhouse gases. As part of a larger initiative to become more environmentally friendly, Xcel Energy announced in 2008 that it plans to close the Arapahoe Station.

Coal-Burning Plants and the Environment

Environmentalists have criticized the use of coal to generate electricity for many reasons. For many, the primary concern is the toxins that coal can release into the air when burned. These toxins include:

  • Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide: When these gases are released into the air, they may contribute to the global problem of climate change.
  • Mercury: This heavy metal is a common byproduct of burning coal. Large amounts of it can contaminate a community’s air, soil, and water supplies. The symptoms of mercury poisoning often develop slowly, but can be severe.
  • Other toxins: In addition to mercury and greenhouse gases, coal-burning plants can release smaller but still potentially hazardous amounts of other toxins. These include arsenic, lead, and carbon monoxide.

In addition to general problems associated with coal, some plants have been built or maintained with potentially dangerous materials. For example, prior to 1987, many plants and other buildings were constructed with the dangerous mineral asbestos. If you have worked in or lived near a power plant, talk to your doctor about your risk for exposure to toxins.

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