Coal dust is responsible for about 22,900 premature deaths per year in the E.U., according to a report released Tuesday. This report is the first analysis to show how coal dust travels, damaging the health in countries hundreds of kilometers away.
In addition to premature deaths, coal plants were responsible for 11,800 new cases of chronic bronchitis and 21,900 hospital admissions in 2013.
The premature deaths were linked to three main pollutants: particulate matter, ground-level ozone, and nitrogen dioxide. Particulate matter, known as PM, caused 83 percent of premature deaths from various causes such as stroke, heart disease, chronic lung disease, or lung cancer.
“Air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths worldwide,” Roberto Bertollini, a doctor, chief scientist, and World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to the E.U., said in a statement. “Higher temperatures resulting from climate change will exacerbate the problem.”
“The good news is that reducing our use of fossil fuels — including harmful emissions from coal — provides a unique opportunity to improve air quality and mitigate climate change thus protecting health from the greatest public health challenge of this century.”
PM is described by the report as a “mixture of liquid and solid particles dispersed in the air, which differ in size and many other properties.” They are tiny, ranging from 0.1 micrometers to 10 micrometers in diameter. Their size is exactly why they are attributed to a majority of premature deaths. The particles are so fine that they reach smaller airways and the alveoli of the lungs — which is where the particles can ultimately enter the bloodstream, affecting different organs of the body.
Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, the WWF European Policy Office, and Sandbag worked together to analyze 2013 air pollutant emissions data from 257 of 280 coal plants. While the E.U. is often applauded for its renewable energy efforts, 24 percent of the E.U.’s electricity originated from coal in 2015, according to the report.
Germany is an example of the contradictory efforts. On a Sunday morning back in May, renewable energy accounted for 90 percent of Germany’s electricity. After the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Germany started phasing out its nuclear power plants and opened or reopened several coal-fired power plants. Germany’s new coal capacity between 2011 and 2015 was greater than the two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Germany causes 2,490 premature deaths abroad and 1,860 domestically from its coal plants. That number is second behind Poland, which causes 4,690 premature deaths abroad and 1,140 domestically.
The E.U. members whose coal power plants are causing the next highest number of premature deaths abroad are Romania (1,660), Bulgaria (1,390), and the U.K. (1,350). The analysis was conducted before the U.K. voted to leave the E.U. Climate activists are concerned that Brexit will negatively impact efforts to mitigate climate change in Europe.
Coal plants are causing premature deaths domestically as well, but it’s the premature deaths caused abroad that make the case for a collective effort by the E.U. to phase out coal plants. The report emphasized the cross-border consequences of coal dust released from plants, saying that “a full coal phase out should be one of the E.U.’s stated goals, as a key step in the transition to a 100% renewables based energy system.”
Germany causes the most premature deaths in its neighboring country of France, with 490 deaths. Its coal plants also cause premature deaths in the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Italy, the U.K., and Poland.
Poland causes premature deaths in the U.K., Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Greece, Romania, France, and Italy. The most are in Germany (620) and Italy (430).
The 4th Largest Economy In The World Just Generated 90 Percent Of The Power It Needs From…Climate CREDIT: shutterstock On Sunday, for a brief, shining moment, renewable power output in Germany reached 90…thinkprogress.orgCountries outside of the E.U., while not directly included in the analysis, had a total of 4,300 premature deaths associated with E.U. coal pollution. Those countries include, in ascending order, Israel, Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republic of Moldova, Lebanon, Kosova, Tunisia, Switzerland, Algeria, Albania, Belarus, Serbia, Russia, Egypt, and Turkey.
The report estimated the health costs were up to 62.3 billion Euros per year, which puts into question the argument that closing coal plants would harm the economy.
“The report underlines the high costs to health that come with our reliance on coal power generation,” Anne Stauffer, deputy director of HEAL, said in a statement. “And it also debunks the myth that coal is a cheap energy source. Clearly, no country on its own can solve the problem of air pollution from energy production.”
The exact figure of health costs is likely higher because the report’s estimate did not include morbidity costs of all health conditions related to exposure to air pollution. It excluded health costs from all of the other steps of burning coal, such as mining, waste disposal, or indirect health costs from carbon dioxide emissions.
Scientists Discovered High Levels Of Radioactivity In A Common Form Of WasteClimate by CREDIT: Shuttershock Scientists have known for years that coal – and its burned byproduct, coal ash …thinkprogress.orgFinland has planned to phase out coal in the 2020s and Austria plans to close its last coal plant by 2025. Sweden plans to become completely fossil fuel free by 2030. Seven E.U. countries currently burn zero coal for power: Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Malta.
Thirty coal plants cause over half of premature deaths and health costs, called the ‘Toxic 30.’ This is caused by poor emissions controls, the sheer amount of coal burned, or a mix of both.
Sydney Pereira is an intern with ThinkProgress.