Coal has been used by man to keep warm since the early bronze age. It was used by the Native Americans as early as the 1300′s as a fuel to cook with, to heat their homes and was even used in the clay pots they made. Coal fueled the Industrial Revolution with a cheap source of creating power. Coal has been the life blood of America for almost 200 years. But coal has also been a killer and it’s death toll keeps rising. Now once again coal is taking center stage in the war between the parties.
“The radical environmentalists have demanded that we lock up all our energy resources. President Bachmann will take that key out of the door. I will unlock it.”
That is what Candidate Michelle Bachmann told a crowd of Tea Party supporters in Florida last week. She went on to say she would eliminate the “job killing” Environmental Protection Agency, saying that she would close the agency down in a single trip. “We will turn out the lights and we’ll lock the doors.”
The rhetoric of late has turned to the EPA’s proposal to begin shutting down Coal fired power plants in this country. The Tea Party is up in arms over this calling the EPA job “killers.”
Well let’s look at this a little closer. The United States currently has close to 400 coal fired energy producing plants in the United States. They produce 54% of all our energy. According to the UCSUSA in one year “each” of those 400 plus plants pour into our atmosphere 3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2), 10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx), 720 tons of carbon monoxide (CO), 220 tons of hydrocarbons, 170 pounds of mercury, 225 pounds of arsenic, 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium.
Now what is left after you burn coal is ash; lots and lots of ash. And that ash is no less polluting than the stuff that clears the smoke stack. According to an article in “Time” magazine;
“A draft report last year(2008) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that the ash contains significant levels of carcinogens, and that the concentration of arsenic in ash, should it contaminate drinking water, could increase cancer risks by several hundred times. A 2006 report by the National Research Council had similar findings. “This is hazardous waste, and it should be classified as such,” says Thomas Burke, an environmental risk expert at Johns Hopkins University who has studied the health effects of coal ash.”
Well you have to store all that ash somewhere , right. The “The Christian Science Monitor” reported:
“Every year, the roughly 400 coal-fired power plants in the US produce about 140 million tons of scrubber sludge, fly ash, and other wastes. A fraction of that waste can be used in products like concrete. The rest goes into landfills and retention ponds.
The 31 identified sites that are deemed a threat to the safety of the population around them are spread across 14 states:
Delaware (1), Florida (3), Illinois (1),Indiana (2), Maryland (1), Michigan (1), Montana (1), Nevada (1), New Mexico (1), North Carolina(6), Pennsylvania (6), South Carolina(3), Tennessee (2), and West Virginia (2). But even the higher total of 101 major coal-ash sites leaking toxins may only hint at a larger problem, some say.”
And every year they add to the already over capacity toxic storage dumps an addition 140 million tons that can leak into our soil and ground water and potentially end up in our water and food supply.
Anything that goes into the atmosphere eventually ends up inside of us, either from what we breath, eat or drink. Coal pollution is no exception. According to the latest report by The American Lung Association;
“24,000 people a year die prematurely because of pollution from coal-fired power plants. And every year 38,000 heart attacks, 12,000 hospital admissions and an additional 550,000 asthma attacks result from coal power plant pollution.
People living closest to these plants, especially children, seniors and those with chronic disease, face the greatest risk, but it doesn’t stop there,” said Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association. “Pollution from coal-fired power plants takes flight and travels far into other states—threatening public health.”
Many of these pollutants “hitchhike” on the fine particulate matter, or particle pollution, that the power plants also produce. Particle pollution from power plants has been recently estimated to kill approximately 13,000 people a year. Most coal-fired plants are concentrated in the Midwest and Southeast.
Hazardous air pollutants are toxic emissions that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive problems or birth defects. People most at risk include: infants, children and teenagers; older adults; pregnant women; people with asthma and other lung diseases; people with cardiovascular disease; diabetics; people with low incomes; and healthy adults who work or exercise outdoors.
“Power plant pollution kills people,” said Connor. “It threatens the brains and nervous system of children. It can cause cancer, heart attacks and strokes.”
And that’s not taking into effect the health impact caused by the mining of these rocks. “Black Lung Disease” or Pneumoconiosis is caused by breathing in coal dust. Since coal dust is produced as a by product of drilling coal by miners this disease is almost exclusive to them. The American Lung Association describes it as the following’
“Pneumoconiosis is an occupational lung disease caused by inhaling coal dust. It is also known as Black Lung Disease. There are two types of pneumoconiosis— simple, known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) and complicated, known as progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). Pneumoconiosis is a type of interstitial lung disease. In this type of disease: the lung is damaged (in this case, by coal dust); the walls of the air sacs are inflamed; and the lung stiffens from scarring of the tissue between the air sacs. There is no known treatment for pneumoconiosis, but doctors treat the symptoms and complications of the disease.”
According to the United Mine Workers union (UMW) an estimated 1,500 former coal miners die each year from the disease. Also The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported that in 2005-2006, 9 percent of miners with 25 or more years of mining experience tested positive for black lung. That is in contrast to only 4 percent in the late 1990s. As stated earlier this disease is incurable, increasing in severity, and is now hitting younger miners as well as more experienced ones.
So if we shut down all the coal mines and coal fired power plants today how many people would be unemployed? Well according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2009 report there are 80,600 miners and mine related jobs in the US. There are also 60,460 Coal Fired Power Plant employees and those employed in related jobs. Based on the above statistics supplied by The American Lung Association there are over 624,000 people killed or made sick from coal each year. I think a one time loss of 141,060 jobs, spread over 10 years, to save the life and prevent the sickness of over half a million people is worth the sacrifice.
Or maybe we should just follow the advice of Governor Mitt Romney who in 2003 fought to protect the public’s health by supporting environmental controls on a Massachusetts coal plant that was responsible for dozens of premature deaths and 14,400 asthma attacks each year, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Announcing new regulations on the coal pollution, Romney said that he would “not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people”:
“I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people. And that plant kills people and PG&E has been given a notice to have it cleaned up by 2004 and they have thumbed their nose at the people of Massachusetts and Salem Harbor by not cleaning it up on time. So we’re saying, clean it up on time, do the job in the community, invest in cleaning technology.”
Coal is an old technology that has long since seen it’s day. It is time that we moved on to something cleaner, something newer and something more efficient.