Coal Health Study Blog

Status Update: Coal Health Impacts

Posted in Uncategorized by coalhealthadmin on March 1, 2010

Physicians and epidemiologists now consider the existing body of literature concerning the health impacts of coal sufficiently robust to make policy recommendations. Two US studies released this winter cite evidence for marked degradation of human and ecosystem health in the vicinity of coal extraction, combustion, and waste storage activities, and propose policy solutions.

December 2009: Coal’s Assault on Human Health

Shortly before the Coal Health Speaking Tour of the Greater Hunter Region was to begin, the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) released a reassessment of the adverse health impacts of coal excavation, coal combustion, and coal waste storage.

The 64-page PSR report, Coal’s Assault on Human Health, details the respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous system effects of airborne coal pollution. In addition, the authors present recent World Health Organization data on human health threats posed by global warming, a relevant topic for inclusion as coal-fired power plants comprise greater than 1/3 of US CO2 emissions.

Five policy recommendations conclude the PSR report:

  • Emissions of carbon dioxide should be cut as deeply and as swiftly as possible, with the objective of reducing CO2 levels to 350 parts per million, through … legislation that establishes hard caps on global warming pollution coming from coal plants, and … EPA carbon dioxide regulation under the Clean Air Act…
  • There should be no new construction of coal-fired power plants, so as to avoid increasing health-endangering emissions of carbon dioxide, as well as criteria pollutants and hazardous air pollutants.
  • The U.S. should dramatically reduce fossil fuel power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides so that all localities are in attainment for national ambient air quality standards.
  • The EPA should establish a standard, based on Maximum Achievable Control Technology, for mercury and other hazardous air pollutant emissions from electrical generation.
  • The nation must develop its capacity to generate electricity from clean, safe, renewable sources so that existing coal-fired power plants may be phased out without eliminating jobs or compromising the nation’s ability to meet its energy needs. … U.S. should fund energy efficiency, conservation measures, and clean, safe, renewable energy sources such as wind energy, solar, and wave power.
  • Coal’s Assault on Human Health is freely available. [Download 3.3MB PDF file from PSR]

    January 2010: Mountaintop Mining Consequences

    On January 8, twelve US-based researchers published “Mountaintop Mining Consequences” in the Policy Forum section of Science. The authors point out that the “global, 30-year increase in surface mining” has resulted in surface mining being the “dominant driver of land-use change in the central Appalachian ecoregion”.

    The authors further indicate that their “analyses of current peer-reviewed studies and of new water-quality data”, has “revealed serious environmental impacts that mitigation practices cannot successfully address”.

    The authors also note that “Published health studies also show a high potential for human health impacts”.

    Topics addressed in the article include: ecological losses and downstream impacts, potential for human health impacts, mitigation effects, and failure of policy and enforcement.

    Policy strategies recommended by the authors of this study:

  • No Mountaintop Mining/Valley Fill permits should be granted unless new methods can be subjected to rigorous peer review and shown to remedy these problems.
  • Regulators should no longer ignore rigorous science
  • The United States should take leadership on these issues, particularly since surface mining in many developing countries is expected to grow extensively.
  • “Mountaintop Mining Consequences” can be purchased online for US$15 and can be found at library branches subscribing to the journal Science. [Read Abstract and/or Purchase Article Online]