Terrorist could easily attack coal mines and coal plants and trigger accidents that kill hundreds. It would just take lighting a match to the coal dust. Their problem would be that no one would be able tell the difference between the terrorist attack from business as usual.
Coal can have accidents and standard operation effects that are far more deadly than the equivalent effect of 100 mSv. 100 milli-sieverts has a 40 year risk increase of 1 in 1000 of cancer. 2 weeks of life expectancy impact. Coal and oil air pollution – without accidents take out 2 years from everyone’s life expectancy.
Terrorist scenarios related to nuclear material are so shocking and worrisome because they are usually no deaths from that source. Coal and oil killing hundreds, wrecking towns, rivers, or large areas of land can happen multiple times in one year. A dirty bomb that killed a dozen people and made a hundred people sick and had an expensive cleanup… well that would be new. It would not be worse than what actually went on with coal or oil in that year and probably in that same week, but it would be new and a confirmation of fears. It is like the movie series Saw. It is not how many people are killed, it is that they are killed in a scary way.
List of coal mine accidents and pollution events
1. April 26, 1942: Benxihu Colliery disaster in Benxi, Liaoning, China.
1,549 workers died, in the worst coal mine accident ever in the world.
2. March 10, 1906: Courrières mine disaster in Courrières, France. 1,099 workers died, including children, in the worst mine accident ever in Europe.
3. November 9, 1963 Omuta, Japan. An explosion in a coal mine killed 447.
4. October 14, 1913 Senghenydd, Wales, Uk
The worst of the Welsh coal mining diasters killed 438 men and boys
5. January 1, 1960 Coalbrook, South Africa. 437 casualties.
6. June 6, 1972 Wankie, Rhodesia. A coal mine explosion kills 427.
7. May 28, 1965 Dhanbad, India. 375 miners die in a coal mine fire.
8. December 27, 1975 Chasnala, India. A coal mine explosion, followed by flooding kills 372.
9. December 12, 1866 Barnsley, England, UK. 361 casualties.
10. December 6, 1907 Monongah, West Virginia
361 casualties. The worst mining disaster in US history is said to have provided the origins of the first Father’s Day celebration. A woman named Grace Clayton asked her church to hold a Sunday memorial for the fathers lost in the mine. The commemoration was held in a church in Fairmont, West Virginia.
There are also atmospheric inversions like the London Fog (killed 14,000 in 1952) which continue to happen on a smaller scale.
There was also the London Killer fog of 1956 that killed over 1000 people
1948, October 30–31, Donora, PA: 20 died, 600 hospitalized, thousands more stricken. Lawsuits were not settled until 1951.
1953, November, New York: Smog kills between 170 and 260 people.
1954, October, Los Angeles: heavy smog shuts down schools and industry for most of the month.
1963, New York: blamed for 200 deaths
1966, New York: blamed for 169 deaths
160 deaths – Smog (London, December 12–15, 1991) (Car exhaust related)
When a latter-day smog enveloped London in 1991 the number of deaths shot up by 10 per cent, according to an unpublished report for the Department of Health. The figures suggest that the smog killed about 160 people. The episode presents the first direct evidence of deaths from air pollution in Britain for more than 30 years and has forced the government to order a review of its air quality guidelines.
The 1991 and other events show that pollution events are not just related to the history of before 1970.
For oil : December 2005, schools and public offices had to close in Tehran, Iran and 1600 people were taken to hospital, in a severe smog blamed largely on unfiltered car exhaust
Air pollution and daily mortality in London: 1987-92
Changing pollution levels have be linked to changes in daily mortality.
Ozone levels (same day) were associated with a significant increase in all cause, cardiovascular, and respiratory mortality; the effects were greater in the warm season (April to September) and were independent of the effects of other pollutants. In the warm season an increase of the eight hour ozone concentration from the 10th to the 90th centile of the seasonal range (7-36 ppb) was associated with an increase of 3.5% (95% confidence interval 1.7 to 5.3), 3.6% (1.04 to 6.1), and 5.4% (0.4 to 10.7) in all cause, cardiovascular, and respiratory mortality respectively. Black smoke concentrations on the previous day were significantly associated with all cause mortality, and this effect was also greater in the warm season and was independent of the effects of other pollutants. For black smoke an increase from the 10th to 90th centile in the warm season (7-19 µg/m3) was associated with an increase of 2.5% (0.9 to 4.1) in all cause mortality. Significant but smaller and less consistent effects were also observed for nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide.
Air pollution Events are happening in China and India now but are mostly unreported
From 1992 to 2002, surface coal mining in Appalachia damaged more than 380,000 acres of forest and 1,000 miles of streams. Six times more coal is mined around the world than in the United States.
So coal (and oil) pollution can get you immediately in the hundreds to thousands and can you kill you slowly in the millions
Worst case and expected business as usual cases.
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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