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Campaigners urge MPs to consider air quality effects of coal

Health group HEAL claims that deaths could be prevented if MPs reconsider future of burning coal in UK

Health campaigners have urged MPs to recognise the impact of pollution from coal-fired power plants, claiming that as many as 1,600 premature deaths are caused by burning coal each year.

According to research carried out on behalf of the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), British coal-fired power plants also cause 363,266 working days lost each year and more than a million incidents of lower respiratory symptoms through air pollution.

Health campaigners have claimed that around 1,600 premature deaths can be attributed to the effects on air quality from coal power stations

Health campaigners have claimed that around 1,600 premature deaths can be attributed to the effects on air quality from coal power stations

The research has been published ahead of a debate on the future of coal power generation due to take place in the House of Commons on Wednesday (December 5).

During the debate, MPs will decide whether to upheld an amendment tabled in the House of Lords over setting targets on greenhouse gas emission reductions for old coal power stations.

Genon Jensen, executive director of HEAL, said: “Rapidly growing evidence of how coal affects air pollution and our health is pushing this issue onto centre stage in the energy debate. Our report has had a great response from energy ministers and health professionals who are increasingly aware that coal is costly for public health.

“The time is now ripe to bring the health facts and figures into national debates and cost assessments. Wednesday’s vote in the UK offers a unique opportunity to cash in huge health co-benefits.â€?

Cost

HEAL estimates that the overall cost of the health effects from air quality problems associated with the burning of coal in power stations is between £1.1 to 3.1 billion per year.

According to HEAL’s research, burning coal adds to poor air quality as coal has a high sulphur content and is burned at low thermal efficiency rates of 34% to 40% on average.

The group adds that coal is the most emissions-intensive energy source and is associated with high sulphur dioxide as well as nitrogen oxide emissions, which react to form secondary particulate matter in the atmosphere.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Michal Krzyzanowski, visiting professor at King’s College London and formerly with the European Centre for Environment & Health (ECEH) of the World Health Organization said that the results left ‘little doubt’ over the links between air quality and respiratory health.

He said: “The scientific evidence that air pollution causes disease is no longer in doubt. Ambient air pollution is recognised as a leading determinant of health globally and in Western Europe – and coal combustion is an important source of this pollution. Energy policy must seriously consider the significant health costs resulting from the use of coal.â€?

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