Archives for posts with tag: coal

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March 22, 2012 was World Water Day. See how North Carolina citizens came together to protect their waters from coal ash.

It’s no secret that coal is our dirtiest energy source. However, what many people don’t know is that as coal burns, many of its most toxic elements, including heavy metals like arsenic, mercury and chromium, are concentrated in the ash that remains and the sludge that’s scrubbed from smokestacks. This by-product is called coal ash. It’s the second largest industrial waste stream in United States and is essentially unregulated.

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From Newcastle Herald:

Overwhelming evidence exists that coalmining and the burning of coal is harmful to health and can have a significant effect on communities, a medical study to be published today has found.

The Medical Journal of Australia article also declares that to persist in mining and burning coal will condemn future generations to catastrophic climate change, which the study’s authors say is the biggest health problem of the future.

The Hunter Valley is singled out as cause for concern, with a parallel drawn between coalmines opening and the region’s inhabitants developing depression, anxiety and ill health.

The authors, William Castleden, David Shearman, George Crisp and Philip Finch, are from Western Australia’s Fremantle Hospital, Perth Pain Management Centre and Murdoch University, and South Australia’s University of Adelaide and Doctors for the Environment Australia.

They said concerns about the expansion of coalmining were growing.

As a result, doctors were being asked about coal and its effects on health.

The article said Australian work on the subject was lacking, but limited evidence suggested health effects were similar to those reported in other developed countries, such as the United States.

Deaths and injuries to miners, lung disease, and coal transport’s traffic accident risk and greenhouse gas emissions are raised in the article.

So too potential environmental damage to water supplies and air pollution.

The Hunter Valley is highlighted in regard to social and mental health concerns.

‘‘Coalmining can change the lifestyle and character of a community,’’ the article said. ‘‘Medical practitioners in coalmining areas have reported that increases in asthma, stress and mental ill health have become more common.

‘‘As more coalmines are opened, as has occurred in the Hunter Valley in NSW, the social fabric of a region changes, the role and function of a township alters, and many inhabitants of these regions have developed depression, anxiety and ill health.’’

Also flagged in the study were the potentially heightened risk of premature death for people living near coal-burning power plants, and release of toxic elements with coal combustion, such as arsenic, mercury and lead.

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From PoweringaNation.com:

The residents of Meigs County, Ohio, live beneath the towering smokestacks of four coal-fired power plants. Elisa Young worries about the health effects of the plants, but others in her community are eager for the jobs a new plant could bring.

From :

“The GenOn coal plant is a serious polluter… but it’s also an extraordinary symbol of the way we get electricity in this country.”

From Reuters Health:

Parents who inhale coal smoke at home may put their babies at increased risk of birth defects, Chinese researchers say.

Zhiwen Li and colleagues at the Peking University Health Science Center in Beijing found that the odds of having malformations of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects are 60 percent higher for children whose mothers inhaled coal smoke than for the children of unexposed mothers.

A 2004 report by the World Health Organization estimated that 90 percent of rural households worldwide use coal and biomass fuel (such as wood, charcoal and dung) for cooking and heating. While coal is relatively inexpensive compared to other energy sources, there are known health risks associated with breathing coal smoke, including lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

“The indoor air pollution caused by coal and biomass burning at home is a major public health concern, especially given the very large numbers of households that rely on these fuels” said Dr. Beate Ritz, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the new study.

Coal smoke contains many chemicals known to cause health problems, including arsenic, carbon monoxide and lead. Coal smoke has many similarities to cigarette smoke, explained Kirk Smith, a professor of global environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley.

Some 70 percent of Chinese households rely on coal or biomass fuels and coal use in particular has tripled in the past 20 years, note the Peking University researchers in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

They focused on four rural counties in Shanxi Province in China, where many residents use coal for cooking and heating their homes and where the rate of 10 to 20 cases of neural tube defects for every 1,000 births in some counties represents one of the highest in the world.

For comparison, the U.S. rate of neural tube defects — which include spina bifida, a paralyzing deformation of the spine — is about 1 in 1,000 births.

The researchers collected information on coal use and other exposures for parents of 610 infants with neural tube defects and 837 healthy infants. Overall, nearly 90 percent of infants with neural tube defects lived in a house that used coal for cooking, compared to just over 80 percent of infants without the defects.

Infants were also more likely to have neural tube defects the higher their mothers’ exposure to coal smoke — which is often a good indicator of a link between an apparent cause and an effect.

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From Greenwire:

Tall smokestacks are one reason that emissions from coal-fired power plants are blown across state lines, making it more difficult for downwind states to clean up their air, a new Government Accountability Office study found.

Nationwide, there are now 284 smokestacks in operation that are more than 500 feet tall, the report (pdf) says. About 35 percent of those are in five states along the Ohio River Valley — Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

Power companies build tall stacks to avoid causing air quality problems in the area around coal plants. But the states along the I-95 corridor in the Northeast blame tall smokestacks for their struggles to meet federal air quality goals, claiming that the stacks feed into fast air currents that carry soot- and smog-forming emissions for hundreds of miles.

GAO found that many older coal plants have tall smokestacks and no modern pollution controls. Fifty-six percent of the boilers attached to tall stacks lack scrubbers to control sulfur dioxide (SO2), and 63 percent do not have controls to trap emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx).

“Stack height is one of several factors that contribute to the interstate transport of air pollution,” the report says. “While the use of pollution controls has increased in recent years at coal power plants, several boilers connected to tall stacks remain uncontrolled.”

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From Charleston Gazette:

Dozens of coal-fired power plants across the country lack the most modern pollution controls to limit air emissions linked to respiratory diseases and premature deaths, according to a report issued Friday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Most of those plants instead built taller smokestacks, in an effort to disperse their emissions over a broader area — a practice that Congress tried to largely discourage when it amended the Clean Air Act more than 30 years ago, according to the GAO report.

The GAO review, requested by a Senate subcommittee, focused on issues concerning the use by utilities of taller smokestacks at coal-fired power plants.

Tall stacks can be used to help disperse sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides and other pollutants and limit air quality impacts in communities where power plants are located. But, they can also increase the distance that pollutants travel, harming air quality in downwind communities.

In 1977, Congress sought to encourage the use of pollution control equipment over tall-stack dispersion techniques to meet national air quality standards. The law does not limit stack height, but prohibits sources of emissions from using stacks taller than those considered “good engineering practice” to meet emissions limits.

Lawmakers interested in follow-up on the issue asked the GAO to report on the number and location of tall stacks of 500 feet or higher, the contribution of those plants to regional pollution problems, and the number of stacks built above the “good engineering practice” height.

Using Department of Energy data, GAO investigators found 284 “tall smokestacks” operating at 172 coal-fired power plants in 34 states as of Dec. 31, 2010. Of those stacks, 207 are 500 to 699 feet tall, 63 are 700 to 999 feet tall, and the remaining 14 are 1,000 feet or taller.

About one-third of these stacks are concentrated in five states along the Ohio River Valley, including 12 in West Virginia at power plants with a generating capacity totaling nearly 14,000 megawatts. The report did not list the individual plants.

“While about half of tall stacks began operating more than 30 years ago, there has been an increase in the number of tall stacks that began operating in the last 4 years, which air and utility officials attributed to the need for new stacks when plants installed pollution control equipment,” the GAO report said.

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From SELCVA (Southern Environmental Law Center):

Southern utilities say coal is “cheap,” but this argument doesn’t add up when you factor in the costs to our environment and health.

From greenpeaceusa:

From the mountains of Kentucky, to the innercity neighborhoods of Chicago, the entire life cycle of coal is filthy – from disastrous mining practices like mountaintop removal, to toxic emissions. What is the true cost of coal on our planet, and on the lives and health of ordinary Americans? Hear firsthand stories from local activists Nina and Mickey McCoy (Inez, KY), and Leila Mendez (Chicago).

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