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The Toll From Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America’s Dirtiest Energy Source

Posted by Content Coordinator on Thursday, September 16th, 2010

CLEAN AIR TASK FORCE

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Among all industrial sources of air pollution, none poses greater risks to human health and the environment than coal-fired power plants. Emissions from coalfired power plants contribute to global warming, ozone  smog, acid rain, regional haze, and—perhaps most consequential of all from a public health standpoint — fine particle pollution. In 2000 and again in 2004, the Clean Air Task Force commissioned comprehensive  studies of health impacts caused by fine particle air pollution from the nation’s roughly 500 coal-fired power plants. Each study incorporated the latest scientific findings concerning the link between air pollution and  public health, as well as up-to-date emissions information. Both found that emissions from the U.S. power sector cause tens of thousands of premature deaths each year and hundreds of thousands of heart attacks,  asthma attacks, emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and lost workdays.

This study provides a new update on the burden of death and disease from coal-based electricity production across the United States. Estimated impacts are based on projected power sector emissions in 2010. As in our 2000 and 2004 reports, Clean Air Task Force commissioned Abt Associates to conduct the analysis for this study. Abt Associates developed estimates of health impacts using a well-established and extensively peer-reviewed methodology that has been approved by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Science Advisory Board and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). In fact, the same methodology has provided the basis for regulatory impact analyses in the context of recent EPA rulemakings.

Results from this latest assessment indicate that although coal plant emissions of key particle-forming pollutants like sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) have declined significantly over the last several  years, existing plants remain among the top contributors to fine particle pollution in the United States. As a result, their emissions continue to take a significant toll on the health and longevity of millions of Americans.

Specifically, Abt Associate’s analysis finds that fine particle pollution from existing coal plants is expected to cause nearly 13,200 deaths in 2010. Additional impacts include an estimated 9,700 hospitalizations and  more than 20,000 heart attacks per year. The total monetized value of these adverse health impacts adds up to more than $100 billion per year. This burden is not distributed evenly across the population. Adverse  impacts are especially severe for the elderly, children, and those with respiratory disease. In addition, the poor, minority groups, and people who live in areas downwind of multiple power plants are likely to be  disproportionately exposed to the health risks and costs of fine particle pollution.

Coal Mortality Rates

Download full report: The Toll from Coal

About Clean Air Task Force
www.catf.us

“Founded in 1996, the Clean Air Task Force is a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring clean air and healthy environments through scientific research, public education, and legal advocacy.”

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