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Heat Advisory: Protecting Health on a Warming Planet
by Dr. Alan Lockwood

Drawing on peer-reviewed scientific and medical research, Dr. Lockwood meticulously details the symptoms of climate change and their medical side effects.

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Code Black: Coal’s Assault on America’s Health Campaign

Coal-fired power plants are the leading global warming culprit in the U.S., accounting for more than 30 percent of our nation's carbon dioxide emissions. They also are one of the nation's largest sources of air pollutants that damage cardiovascular and respiratory health and threaten healthy child development. Particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and more than 50 other air toxics are among the dangerous mix of pollutants spewed from the smokestacks of coal plants. Despite this poor environmental record, energy companies have proposed building more than 100 new coal-fired power plants across the country. 

Coal proponents say that new technologies can turn coal into a clean, low carbon energy source. Yet many of the new coal plants under consideration would rely on outdated, dirty energy technologies of the past. Virtually none of the new coal plant proposals include plans to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from day one of operation. If built, these coal plants, with a lifespan in excess of 50 years, would gravely diminish the prospects of slowing global warming, while exacerbating air pollution-related disease and death.

PSR calls on the medical and public health community to help stem the tide of coal plant construction around the country. Given the clear and growing threats to public health posed by these plants, physicians, nurses and other health professionals must work to halt this dangerous nationwide "coal rush."  Until energy companies agree to install the most effective air pollution control technologies, and until new plants are able to capture and sequester CO2 emissions, a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants must be enacted. Together, we can build a healthier energy future, a future in which energy demand is met not by dirty fossil fuel, but instead by a combination of conservation, efficiency and truly clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

A Serious Global Warming Culprit

Within the electricity sector, CO2 emissions from coal-fired electricity generation comprise nearly 80 percent of the total emissions, but the share of electricity generation from coal is only 50 percent. This disproportionate carbon footprint is due to the high carbon content of coal relative to other fossil fuels like natural gas. Without the ability to capture and safely store CO2, emissions from the fleet of new coal plants proposed across the country will make it virtually impossible to prevent the worst impacts of global warming. As global temperatures increase, public health will suffer as a result of increased heat waves, more severe storms, worsening air pollution and the spread of vector borne diseases such as malaria and West Nile virus. Sea level rise will severely disrupt the lives of the more than 150 million U.S. residents living in and around our nation's coastal cities and towns. Across the U.S., the poorest and most vulnerable individuals those least able to adapt will be disproportionately affected as the U.S. public health infrastructure becomes overburdened by the impacts of global warming.

For more, read: The Medical and Public Health Impacts of Global Warming

Webinar: Health Co-Benefits of Carbon Standards for Existing Power Plants

Dirty Power, Dirty Air

In addition to massive CO2 emissions, coal combustion produces a slew of harmful air pollutants. Every year, particulate matter pollution spewed by coal-fired power plants triggers hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks and causes tens of thousands of hospitalizations, heart attacks and early deaths. Coal plant emissions of nitrogen oxide also contribute to the formation of ground level ozone, or smog, which itself is associated with asthma attacks, new onset asthma, heart attacks and angina pain. Coal-fired power plants are also the single largest source of mercury emissions in the U.S. Pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of mercury, exposure to which occurs primarily from consuming contaminated fish. As many as 600,000 children are born each year with dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies, putting them at heightened risk for developmental disabilities. This is particularly concerning given the increasing incidence of autism and other neurological problems among U.S. children.

For more, read: 

Fighting Coal Internationally

PSR has applied its expertise on coal and health internationally as well.  In July 2012, PSR wrote a letter to the World Bank asking it not to finance a coal-fired power plant in Kosovo until it had studied the ramifications for health.


Sierra Club has created an interactive map showing where new coal plants have been proposed, are under construction or have recently been completed. To view the map, click here. More information on these coal plants is also available in the Sierra Club's coal plant database -- view it by clicking here.

Page Updated December 29, 2014

Coal Ash: The Toxic Threat to Our Health and Environment

Coal ash, one of the dirtiest secrets in American energy production, burst into the U.S. consciousness three days before Christmas, 2008 when an earthen wall holding back a huge coal ash disposal pond failed at the coal-fired power plant in Kingston, Tennessee. Read more»

Medical report on coal and health

Coal’s Assault on Human Health, a report from PSR, takes a new look at the devastating impacts of coal on the human body. The report also considers coal’s contribution to global warming, and the health implications of global warming. Read more»

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