Health and Environmental Justice Implications of Retiring Two Coal-Fired Power Plants in the Southern Front Range Region of Colorado

Sheena E. Martenies, Ali Akherati, Shantanu Jathar, Sheryl Magzamen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite improvements in air quality over the past 50 years, ambient air pollution remains an important public health issue in the United States. In particular, emissions from coal-fired power plants still have a substantial impact on both nearby and regional populations. Of particular concern is the potential for this impact to fall disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color. We conducted a quantitative health impact assessment to estimate the health benefits of the proposed decommissioning of two coal-fired electricity generating stations in the Southern Front Range region of Colorado. We estimated changes in exposures to fine particulate matter and ozone using the Community Multiscale Air Quality model and predicted avoided health impacts and related economic values. We also quantitatively assessed the distribution of these benefits by population-level socioeconomic status. Across the study area, decommissioning the power plants would result in 2 (95% CI: 1–3) avoided premature deaths each year due to reduced PM2.5 exposures and greater reductions in hospitalizations and other morbidities. Health benefits resulting from the modeled shutdowns were greatest in areas with lower educational attainment and other economic indicators. Our results suggest that decommissioning these power plants and replacing them with zero-emissions sources could have broad public health benefits for residents of Colorado, with larger benefits for those that are socially disadvantaged. Our results also suggested that researchers and decision makers need to consider the unique demographics of their study areas to ensure that important opportunities to reduce health disparities associated with point-source pollution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)266-283
Number of pages18
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • ambient air pollution
  • community multiscale air quality model
  • economic assessment
  • environmental justice
  • health impact assessment
  • inequality metrics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Epidemiology
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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