In their new analysis of the health impacts of coal combustion, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) reports that the air pollution created by burning coal is causing 18,200 premature deaths and costing up to €43 billion each year in Europe. Additionally, emissions from coal-fired power plants are a major contributor to climate change, another threat to public health due to its influence on increased extreme weather events such as heat waves.
Called the ‘invisible killer,’ the air pollution caused by the burning of coal has prompted doctors to urge governments to stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants in Europe and ensure a complete phase out of coal power by 2040.
“Our report offers the scientific evidence on the health impacts of coal and provides vital information from a health perspective that should be taken into account when determining energy policy,” says Genon Jensen, Executive Director at HEAL, which brings together more than 70 networks and groups in 26 European countries.
“The findings are particularly worrying given that the use of coal is now rising after years of decline. The startlingly high costs to human health should trigger a major rethink on EU energy policy,” adds Ms Jensen.
How coal power plants make us sick
Including first of its kind research, The unpaid health bill: How coal power plants make us sick outlines how burning coal for power causes premature deaths, chronic respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and 4 million lost working days annually. The burdens of these illnesses are not accounted for in the cost of coal power – instead, they are borne by individuals and national health care budgets, and create losses in the economy due to lost productivity.
The air pollutants associated with burning coal, including sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and particulate matter, are pervasive and can travel across borders to affect communities far from power plants. Therefore, only coordinated efforts to reduce the use of coal internationally will be successful in decreasing air pollution and climate change.
HEAL uses the new data presented in the report to recommend a moratorium on the construction of new coal plants, and advises that Europe should abandon coal by 2040. Moving away from coal as a source of power will greatly improve public health by reducing harmful air pollutants and preventing the worst impacts of climate change.
Medical experts, health insurers, and patient groups are joining HEAL in urging national governments to follow these recommendations for the benefit of community health. The call to stop burning coal to clear the air is especially salient this year, as the European Union has declared 2013 the ‘Year of Air.’ A growing number of coal and health campaigners suggest it’s time for governments to do just what the doctor ordered.
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About the AuthorTckTckTck is the online hub for the Global Call for Climate Action. The GCCA represents an unprecedented alliance of more than 400 nonprofit organizations from around the world. Our shared mission is to mobilize civil society and galvanize public support to ensure a safe climate future for people and nature, to promote the low-carbon transition of our economies, and to accelerate the adaptation efforts in communities already affected by climate change.
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