Country 2005 Coal Power Prod. % of World Total U.S. 2,090,000 GWh 30.1% China 1,713,000 GWh 24.7% India 461,000 GWh 6.6% Germany 308,000 GWh 4.4% Japan 294,000 GWh 4.2% South Africa 226,000 GWh 3.3% Australia 190,000 GWh 2.7% Russia 161,000 GWh 2.3% Poland 143,000 GWh 2.1% South Korea 142,000 GWh 2.0% World Total 6,944,000 GWh 100%
Here’s a breakdown of existing U.S. coal-fired generating stations by size:
Plant Size # of Plants Total Capacity 0-10 MW 205 1,026 MW 10-20 MW 127 1,712 MW 20-50 MW 168 5,248 MW 50-100 MW 199 14,085 MW 100-200 MW 289 42,132 MW 200-300 MW 133 31,804 MW 300-400 MW 71 24,957 MW 400-500 MW 63 28,042 MW 500-600 MW 86 48,120 MW 600-700 MW 82 52,997 MW 700-800 MW 37 27,415 MW 800-900 MW 37 30,984 MW 900-1,000 MW 13 12,195 MW Over 1,000 MW 12 15,136 MW
How much sulfur dioxide is scrubbed ? SO2 contributes strongly to acid rain, and causes or exacerbates respiratory illnesses. However, the legislation allowed for exemptions for older power plants.
SO2 Removal Rate # of Plants Total Capacity Over 90% 94 46,734 MW 80-89% 49 21,613 MW 70-79% 52 20,950 MW 16-69% 11 3,825 MW None 628 220,664 MW [No pollution mitigation at all]
86 plants have a capacity of 107.1 GW, or 9.9% of total U.S. electric capacity [but about 6% of total when converted to GW hours], they emitted 5,389,592 tons of SO2 in 2006 – which represents 28.6% of U.S. SO2 emissions from all sources.
Coal Waste from sourewatch
Liquid coal waste
Before burning, coal is crushed and washed, creating waste water filled with toxins. Another form of liquid coal waste is acidic mine runoff. Both forms of liquid coal waste are disposed of in a landfill at the mine site. Each year coal preparation creates waste water containing an estimated 13 tons of mercury, 3236 tons of arsenic, 189 tons of beryllium, 251 tons of cadmium, and 2754 tons of nickel, and 1098 tons of selenium
The 1.05 billion tons of coal burned each year in the United States contain 109 tons of mercury, 7884 tons of arsenic, 1167 tons of beryllium, 750 tons of cadmium, 8810 tons of chromium, 9339 tons of nickel, and 2587 tons of selenium. On top of emitting 1.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year, coal-fired power plants in the United States also create 120 million tons of toxic waste. That means each of the nation’s 500 coal-fired power plants produces an average 240,000 tons of toxic waste each year. A power plant that operates for 40 years will leave behind 9.6 million tons of toxic waste. This coal combustion waste (CCW) constitutes the nation’s second largest waste stream after municipal solid waste.
721 power plants generating at least 100 MW of electricity produced 95.8 million tons of coal ash, about 20 percent of which – or almost 20 million tons – ended up in surface ponds. The rest of the ash winds up in landfills or is sold for other uses.
There are more than 1,300 surface impoundments across the U.S., each of which can reach up to 1,500 acres.
In 2007, 50 million tons of fly ash was used for agriculture purposes, such as improving the soil’s ability to hold water, in spite of a 1999 EPA warning about high levels of arsenic
Some Accidents in 2009
Coal ash pile in Orange County, FL may be leaking radioactivity
The Florida EPA is expected to ask the Orlando Utilities Commission to investigate the ash pile from its coal plant in eastern Orange County in early 2009. Officials believe the landfill is leaking radioactivity into a shallow underground aquifer. If the uranium and radium found in the coal combustion waste is causing elevated radioactivity in groundwater, it would be a sign that the liner is failing. Authorities say there is no immediate threat to local residents. The ash pile is 70-feet tall and holds several million tons of coal waste
Coal waste spill at TVA’s Widows Creek plant in Alabama
On January 9, 2009, Tennessee Valley Authority confirmed another coal waste spill at its Widows Creek plant in northeast Alabama, less than three weeks after the enormous Tennessee coal ash spill at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant [an aerial survey showing that 5.4 million cubic yards (1.09 billion gallons) of fly ash was released from the storage facility. The TVA spill was 100 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska]. The spill, which TVA said originated from a gypsum treatment operation, released about 10,000 gallons of toxic gypsum material, some of which spilled into Widows Creek and the nearby Tennessee River.
Gypsum ponds contain limestone spray from smokestack scrubbers, which trap sulfur dioxide emissions before they are released into the air and turn them into sludge and solid waste.
Feb 22, 2009: A gas explosion at a coal mine in northern China killed at least 74. Survivors described how they tried to flee along tunnels to escape the choking carbon monoxide, but were overcome by the fumes. At least 74 miners died and 114 others were hospitalized, including six in critical condition. The death toll was the highest from a coal mine accident in China since December 2007, when gas exploded in an unventilated tunnel in Linfen city, also in Shanxi province, killing 105 miners, according to the State Administration of Work Safety.
About 3,200 people died in coal mine accidents in 2008 in China, a 15 percent decline from 2007. While China’s overall coal mining safety record is abysmal, the numbers mask great disparities. Large, state-run mines tend to have safety records approaching those of developed countries while smaller mines have little or no safety equipment and weak worker training. Government figures show that almost 80 percent of China’s 16,000 mines are small, illegal operations.
Coal Deaths and Health Effects and Costs
One out of every six women of childbearing age in the United States may have blood mercury concentrations high enough to damage a developing fetus. This means that 630,000 of the 4 million babies born in the country each year are at risk of neurological damage because of exposure to dangerous mercury levels in the womb.
US Coal plants 98,000 pounds (44 metric tons) of mercury into the air each year. Power plants yield an additional 81,000 pounds of mercury pollution in the form of solid waste, including fly ash and scrubber sludge, and 20,000 pounds of mercury from “cleaning” coal before it is burned. In sum, coal-fired power plants pollute the environment with some 200,000 pounds of mercury annually.
In the United States, 23,600 deaths each year can be attributed to air pollution from power plants. Those dying prematurely due to exposure to particulate matter lose, on average, 14 years of life. Burning coal also is responsible for some 554,000 asthma attacks, 16,200 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 38,200 non-fatal heart attacks each year. Atmospheric power plant pollution in the United States racks up an estimated annual health care bill of over $160 billion.
While the annual number of worker fatalities on-site in the 2,000 U.S. coal mines has fallen to around 30, pneumoconiosis—commonly known as black lung disease—kills an estimated 1,500 former coal miners a year.
40% of freight rail cargo is coal.
There are about 900 rail fatalities per year Coal statistical share of that is 360. The 2 billion tons of coal also sometime travel in large trucks. There were about 5000 large truck fatalities per year in the united states.
There are about 24 mining workers driving fatalities per year and 621 workers per year died from material moving (1.24 billion tons of coal in 2002
Coal share of that is probably about 100-150 workers.
Sulfur Dioxide [acid rain] $52 to 122 billion in property damage
visability/airline delays $12 billion
About 4 percent of deaths in the United States can be attributed to air pollution, according to the Environmental Science Engineering Program at the Harvard School of Public Health.
310,000 Europeans die from air pollution annually.
The large number of deaths and other health problems associated with particulate pollution was first demonstrated in the early 1970s and has been reproduced many times since. Particulate Matter pollution is estimated to cause 22,000-52,000 deaths per year in the United States (from 2000) and 200,000 deaths per year in Europe.
Recent studies have shown that some fly ash samples contain a very high proportion (as much as 50%) of hexavalent chromium, a very potent carcinogen. Moreover, all of this hexavalent chromium is water soluble and would readily be liberated in lung and stomach fluids.
Arsenic and Flourine
So many toxins and pollution from coal that tens of thousands of tons/year of the poison arsenic are not even in the top five concerns about coal waste. Many thousands affected by arsenic poisoning and millions from volatized flourine and it ends up towards the bottom of the list of coal crimes.
Arsenic cannot be destroyed in the environment [no half life]. It can only change its form, or become attached to or separated from particles. Farmers sometimes even pay to get coal ash to mix into soil to help crops grow. The EPA has warned them that Arsenic levels are too high.
Zheng et al. describe chronic arsenic poisoning, affecting several thousand people in Guizhou Province, PRC. Those affected exhibit typical symptoms of arsenic poisoning including hyperpigmentation (flushed appearance, freckles), hyperkeratosis
(scaly lesions on the skin, generally concentrated on the hands and feet), Bowen’s disease (dark, horny, precancerous lesions of the skin), and squamous cell carcinoma.
The health problems caused by fluorine volatilized during domestic coal use are far more extensive than those caused by arsenic. More than 10 million people in Guizhou Province and surrounding areas suffer from various forms of fluorosis, and coal combustion induced fluorosis has also been reported from 13 other provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities in China. Typical signs of fluorosis include mottling of tooth enamel (dental fluorosis: Fig. 1b) and various forms of skeletal fluorosis including osteosclerosis, limited movement of the joints, and outward manifestations such as knock-knees, bowlegs, and spinal curvature.
Zheng et al. report nearly 500 cases of human selenosis in southwest China that are attributed to the use of selenium-rich carbonaceous shales known locally as ‘‘stone coal’’. Symptoms of selenium poisoning include hair and nail loss.
Newly Identified Persistent Free Radicals
Scientists have long known that free radicals exist in the atmosphere. These atoms, molecules, and fragments of molecules are highly reactive and damage cells in the body. Free radicals form during the burning of fuels or in photochemical processes like those that form ozone. Most of these previously identified atmospheric free radicals form as gases, exist for less than one second, and disappear. In contrast, the newly detected molecules — which Dellinger terms persistent free radicals (PFRs) — form on airborne nanoparticles and other fine particle residues as gases cool in smokestacks, automotive exhaust pipes and household chimneys. Particles that contain metals, such as copper and iron, are the most likely to persist, he said. Unlike other atmospheric free radicals, PFRs can linger in the air and travel great distances.
Once PFRs are inhaled, Dellinger suspects they are absorbed into the lungs and other tissues where they contribute to DNA and other cellular damage. Epidemiological studies suggest that more than 500,000 Americans die each year from cardiopulmonary disease linked to breathing fine particle air pollution, he says. About 10 to 15 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed in nonsmokers, according to the American Cancer Society. However, Dellinger stresses additional research is necessary before scientists can definitely link airborne PFRs to these diseases.
More than half of the world’s population rely on dung, wood, crop waste or coal to meet their most basic energy needs.
Exposure to indoor air pollution more than doubles the risk of pneumonia and is thus responsible for more than 900 000 of the 2 million annual deaths from pneumonia.
Women exposed to indoor smoke are three times as likely to suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), such as chronic bronchitis, than women who cook and heat with electricity, gas and other cleaner fuels. Among men, exposure to this neglected risk factor nearly doubles the risk of chronic respiratory disease. Consequently, indoor air pollution is responsible for approximately 700 000 out of the 2.7 million global deaths due to COPD.
The mortality in cities with high levels of pollution exceeds that observed in relatively cleaner cities by 15–20%. Even in the EU, average life expectancy is 8.6 months lower due to exposure to PM2.5 produced by human activities.
An estimated 600 000 Chinese coal miners are suffering from black lung disease. The
number of Chinese coal miners with black lung is estimated to increase by about 70 000 each year.
But Coal is the Past, Solar and Wind can take Care of Our Energy Problems. Right?
Coal is still the fastest growing energy source. Wind power is at about 1% of world energy and solar is at 0.1%. Nuclear power is at about 16%. Coal provides 50% of electricity for the world and the United States.
But Being Killed or Damaged By Coal is Not as Bad as a Nuclear Death. Right?
Firstly, dead is still dead and the numbers dead from coal usage are staggering. Do not just look at the large numbers and shrug. 25,000 each year in the United States is five times more than six years of the Iraq war. It is eight times more than 9/11. For Europe the 300,000 every year is more than the deaths from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were nuclear weapons that were made more tens years before the first nuclear power plant. Nuclear power does not lead to nuclear weapons. It is the priority of nations that it is nuclear weapons first then nuclear power. Many have nuclear weapons but no nuclear power.
People in the US complain about out of control medical costs. 30% or more of the medical costs are the result of fossil fuel air pollution.
For the environment, look at areas after and during coal mining. Look at skies in China and India. But China coal problem is there problem not ours. Right? China exports are one third of their GDP. Those products go mainly to Europe and the United States. One third of China’s pollution is generated to support Western consumption (cheaper stuff at Walmart.)
Let us consider some more cases of coal power caused deaths and then decide if it makes sense to parse quality of death.
The Buffalo Creek Flood (Feb, 1972): 125 dead, 1121 injured and 4000 homeless.
The 15- to 20-foot black wave of water gushed at an average of 7 feet per second and destroyed one town after another. A resident of Amherstdale commented that before the water reached her town, “There was such a cold stillness. There was no words, no dogs, no nothing. It felt like you could reach out and slice the stillness.” — quote from Everything in Its Path, by Kai T. Erikson
By Sunday, Dec. 7, visibility fell to one foot. Roads were littered with abandoned cars. Cattle in the city’s Smithfield market were killed and thrown away before they could be slaughtered and sold — their lungs were black. On the second day of the smog, Saturday, Dec. 6, 500 people died in London. When the ambulances stopped running, thousands of gasping Londoners walked through the smog to the city’s hospitals. The lips of the dying were blue.
Many of those who die in coal mines do not die painlessly or instantly. Many were likely trapped and suffered for days in failed efforts but were too deep to free themselves or for help to reach them in time. Two who lived were in complete darkness for days, had to drink their own urine, ate coal and dug through 66 feet of dirt and coal. Others could go through a similar struggle yet because they were too deep failed to reach safety.
Some Staggering Statistics on Coal Waste
In the last two decades the volume of coal combustion waste has doubled: from about 65 to the more than 130 million short tons per year I mentioned above.
About 50 percent of that growth comes from flue-gas desulfurization – our “fix” to clean up sulfate air pollution has increases solid coal waste problem.
About 31 percent of this increased waste is recycled into other uses; the rest is thrown into the coal waste stream.
So … “cleaning up” sulfate pollution has increased coal waste by almost 23 million short tons per year.
What’s perhaps worse is that this number is going to grow for two reasons:
1. The primary market for gypsum (the main constituent of FGD waste that is reused) is near saturation and isn’t expected to be able to absorb much more coal waste; and
2. Only about 30 percent of our coal-fired capacity have installed controls to limit sulfate pollution.
A New Waste Stream
The country is now getting ready to require coal-fired power plants to curb mercury emissions. Without question this is needed. Coal-fired plants are the single largest source of mercury in the United States, emitting about 48 tons annually.
When coal is burned, some of the impurities like mercury, lead, and arsenic that are concentrated in the fly ash, are removed as particulate matter. But about two-thirds of them are vaporized and thus currently uncontrolled.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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