Coal plant smokestacks
By 2007 there were over 50,000 active coal plants worldwide. This number will undoubtedly increase as power demands are expected to rise 60% by 2030. More than any other fossil fuel, the combustion of coal contributes the most to acid rain and air pollution. Because of the makeup of coal, it is impractical to purify the fuel before combustion. Newer coal power plants utilize "scrubber" technologies that filter the exhaust air in smoke stacks to help reduce pollution but emission levels of various pollutants are still several times greater than natural gas power plants. A great deal of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide are released into the air. Nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide react with the atmosphere causing acidic compounds such as sulfurous acid, nitric acid and sulfuric acid which fall as acid rain.
The emission of particulates during coal combustion has a negative impact on public health. Case studies show that exposure to particulate matter is related to an increase of respiratory and cardiac disease. It can irritate small airways in the lungs leading to problems with chronic bronchitis, asthma and affecting the lung's ability to exchange gasses.
Coal, like most sedimentary rocks, contains low levels of thorium, uranium, and other radioactive isotopes. If enough coal is burned large amounts of these substances can be released. A coal-burning power plant producing a thousand megawatts could have an uncontrolled release of as much as 5.2 metric tons per year of uranium which would contain approximately 74 pounds of uranium-235 and 12.8 metric tons per year of thorium.
Coal ash containing arsenic (which causes a variety of cancers and nerve damage) and lead produced by coal-fired power plants has been dumped at sites across 21 U.S. states, contaminating the ground water. There is no EPA regulation of coal ash disposal. It is completely state regulated and the power industry lobbies to keep it this way. In most states no testing of potable water near coal ash dump sites is required.
Coal-fueled power plant emission are also believed to be the largest source of mercury contamination in the United States, affecting streams, water supplies and wildlife.
Has a Coal Fired Power Plant in your area compromised your environment or health by unsafe or illegal practices?
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