Home > Coal, Opencast Mining > What’s Wrong With Coal?

What’s Wrong With Coal?

Climate Change

In 2008 85% of the UK’s Greenhouse gas emissions were Carbon dioxide. The main source of CO2 emissions was the energy supply sector which made up 39% of carbon dioxide emissions [1]. There was actually a small decrease in emissions which was the result of  using more natural gas at the expense of coal for electricity generation. The burning of coal for electricity generation is the most carbon intensive of all fossil fuels as it is made up of nearly all carbon. Globally CO2 emissions from Coal-fired power stations amounts to 11 billion tonnes [2]. That’s 41% of all global fossil fuel CO2 emissions [3].
NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen has said that the ‘single most important action’ needed to tackle the climate crisis is to reduce CO2 emissions from coal [4].

The entire life cycle of coal from mining through to waste disposal effects the environment, human health and local communities. It disrupts eco systems and contaminates water supplies. As well as CO2 other greenhouse gases released during the process include nitrogen oxide and methane [5] and toxic chemicals like mercury, aluminium, lead, copper and arsenic which has been know to leak into water supplies. A lot of coal contains sulphur which can lead to acid mine drainage if it’s exposed and forms sulphuric acid. This can then contaminate local water supplies.

Opencast Mining

Opencast mining is used if the coal seams are found near the surface of the earth, the surface is broken up by explosives to get to the coal seam which is then drilled so it breaks up and can be taken away. This form of mining causes deforestation, water shortages, the loss of fertile soil through erosion, subsidence, lowering of the water tables, coal fires, contamination of water supplies and destruction of agricultural land. As well as destroying eco-systems and landscapes. It Also causes health problems for local communities and workers due to the removal of overburden which creates dust or partial matter.[5] Air pollution associated with coal mines also comes from near by power stations and from diesel fumes from all the mining equipment. Added to air pollution and water pollution is noise pollution generated from the explosions and drilling.

Health of Local Communities

A lot of the negative health effects of open cast mines comes form inhaling dust particles from the mine, local water supplies can also become contaminated from the process of washing the coal. A study carried out to investigate the effects of open cast coal mines on the local community of Douglasdale found noticeable ill-health in the people who lived near the Douglas and Dalmellington open-cast coal mines, compared with aggregated UK health statistics and with a nearby Scottish town upwind from the mines [6]. The study found that there was a small but significant link with living near an open-cast coal mine and getting a respiratory disease. It also found “the high rate of death from cancer in the Douglasdale sub-region of Clydesdale is particularly troubling” [6]. The study also looked at 12 other peer review reports that have investigated the effects of opencast coal mines. Of these 10 found significant ill-health within the coal mining areas.  Other studies have also linked lung disease, kidney disease, cardiopulmonary disease, black lung disease, hypertension and cardiac diseases with open cast coal mines.
The risk of developing kidney disease increase by 70% if you live near a coal mine.
The risk of developing chronic lung diseases increases by 64% if you live near a coal mine and risk of high blood pressure is increased by 30% [7].

[1] UK CLIMATE CHANGE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT INDICATOR:
2008 GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS, FINAL FIGURES. National Statistics http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/statistics/climate_change/gg_emissions/uk_emissions/2008_final/2008_final.aspx

[2] International Energy Agency, 2008. CO2 emissions from fuel
combustion.

[3] International Energy Agency, 2007. Key World Energy
Statistics. OECD/ IEA 2007.

[4] Hansen, J., 2007. Testimony before the Iowa Utilities Board,
Docket No. GCU-07-01. 05 November 2007. http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2007/IowaCoal_20071105.pdf.

[5] Greenpeace, Leave it in the ground.
http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/planet-2/report/2008/11/true-cost-coal.pdf

[6] Douglasdale Community Coal Health Study http://coalhealthstudy.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/douglasdale_v42.pdf

[7] http://coalactionscotland.noflag.org.uk/?page_id=1588

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