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The Unhealthy Secrets of Coal

The Unhealthy Secrets of Coal. Michele Prevost, MD. Why is Coal Toxic?. Toxic metals Radioactive elements (decays to Radon) Even “low-sulfur” coal produces bio-toxic sulfur and acidifies water Benzene derivatives (carcinogenic). Why is Coal Toxic?.

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The Unhealthy Secrets of Coal

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  1. The Unhealthy Secrets of Coal Michele Prevost, MD

  2. Why is Coal Toxic? • Toxic metals • Radioactive elements (decays to Radon) • Even “low-sulfur” coal produces bio-toxic sulfur and acidifies water • Benzene derivatives (carcinogenic)

  3. Why is Coal Toxic? • Arsenic – known poison; various cancer & lymphoma • Lead – effects almost every body system • Mercury – Irreversible damage to nervous system • Cadmium – High Blood Pressure; kidney damage • Vanadium – Lung damage; birth defects • Selenium – Cirrhosis (liver failure); pulmonary edema (fluid in lungs); death • Others not as well studied

  4. Adverse Health Effects of Coal A 15 Minute Primer • Coal Mining • Dust • Water • Processing • Transportation • Combustion • Combustion Waste = that electricity is more costly than you think

  5. Coal Dust • PM10 & PM2.5 particles • Black Lung Disease (pneumoconiosis) • Childhood Asthma • Linked to Lymphoma • Greatest impact on young, old & those with other lung or heart disease SEWARD COAL PROBLEMS

  6. Coal and Water • Slurry Ponds • Toxins concentrated • Leach hundreds of years • Old Mine Shafts • Link to ground water contamination • Impoundments • Failures deadly

  7. Coal and Water • Wells exceed drinking water standard >500% • Lack of biodiversity & deformed fish • Stream acidification • Dry ponds = more toxic dust

  8. What if you live down-wind or down-stream? • Common Sense – pollutants that poison make people sick • Growing body of medical studies • Higher rates of premature death, COPD, Lung Cancer, other heart, lung, kidney disease, congenital abnormalities, hospitalizations (after adjusting for other factors) • Environmental degradation linked to depression (and poverty?)

  9. Living Near Coal Mining • Not just occupational injuries & illness • Higher rates of • Cancer – lung, lymphoma • Hospitalization • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease) • Hypertension (leads to heart, kidney disease) • Childhood Asthma • Injured by fly rock and trucks

  10. Coal Processing • Chemical wash to prepare for burning • 19 are known cancer-causing agents • Often stored in slurry impoundments • Spills and failures • Contaminated water, injuries, deaths • Dried slurry waste extremely high concentration of toxics – dust

  11. Coal Transportation • The Trains and Trucks • >600,000 NOx • >50,000 tons PM • Along railway much higher than EPA recommended air toxin levels • Numerous coal-truck accidents YES, THAT IS COAL DUST

  12. Coal Combustion • Most well known / studied polluter • Particulates, nitrates, sulfates, mercury • American Lung Association Estimated 24,000 deaths /year directly related • Nitrous Oxide, Sulfur Dioxides → acid rain • Acidification water increases metal leaching into waterways (vicious cycle)

  13. Mercury • #1 source in US – coal fired power plants • Methylmercury builds up in fish, wildlife, then people • Potent neurotoxin • Disrupts fetal development

  14. Mercury • 48 tons emitted 2005 • High amounts in predatory fish • 600,000 infants at risk annually • There is No Safe Level of exposure

  15. Coal Combustion Waste • “Coal Ash” or CCW • 141 million tons annually in US • Kingston Dam Slurry disaster brought attention • Water in area >100x allowable levels toxic heavy metals • Widespread ground water contamination around mines & power plants in lower 48

  16. Coal Ash - Alaska • USGS & Independent Testing of Soils in Fairbanks: • Arsenic • Vanadium • Lead • Mercury Mercury

  17. Coal Ash - Arsenic • Primary threat to human health? • >100x allowable soil levels in AK tests • EPA: 2000x increased cancer risk living @ coal ash ponds

  18. Conclusion • Once soils / water contaminated, may be for centuries • Cumulative public health impacts of coal extensive • Our dependence on coal not sustainable • Move beyond the industrial revolution – need a future without coal


  20. References • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR); Research on the Health impacts of coal-related pollutants; 2009. • Aneja, Viney; Characterization of Particulate Matter (PM10) in Roda, Virginia, Raleigh 2009 • Brabin B; Respiratory morbidity in Merssyside schoolchildren exposed to coal dust and air pollution. Archives of Disease in Childhood 70; 1994; 305-312 • Epstein P; Testimony for the Kentucky General Assembly House of Representatives Committee on Health and Welfare; Feb 2010. • Epstein P, et al; Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal; Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences; 1219, 2011; 73-98 • Goodell J; Big Coal; The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future; First Mariner Books; 2007

  21. References • Hendryx M, et al. Hospitalization patterns associated with Appalachian coal mining; Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health; 2007; 70; 2064-70 • Hendryx M, Ahern MM; Relations between health indicators and residential proximity to coal mining in West Virginia; American Journal of Public Health; 2008; 98; 669-71 • Hendryx, et al.; Lung Cancer Mortality is Elevated in Coal Mine Areas of Appalachia; Lung Cancer; 2008; 62; 1-7 • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH); Registry of toxic effects of chemical substances: Coal, ground bituminous; Cincinnati, OH; Centers for Disease Control; 1991. • NSW Health; Mine Dust and You; _dust.html

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