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Guided by the values and expertise of medicine and public health, Physicians for Social Responsibility works to protect humanity from the gravest threats to health and survival. Right now, you can make a difference by registering your comments on the EPA's new Clean Power rule to limit carbon from existing coal-burning power plants. Just click the button to get started.

Coal: not clean x 2

Posted by Barbara Gottlieb on December 10, 2008

Have you seen the coal industry's advertising blitz about "clean coal"?   Our colleagues in the environmental movement have responded with a media campaign of their own.  Their first TV ad, a tongue-in-cheek spoof, purports to show us a "state of the art clean coal facility."  What's there?  A windswept terrain of sand, stone and scrub.  In short, clean coal technology doesn't exist.  Neither does "clean" coal.

The ad identifies coal combustion as one of the leading causes of global warming.  Coal-fired plants add huge amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, increasing global warming and the potential for massive public health emergencies from storms, flooding, drought, and vector-borne disease. 

Yet grave as that is, it is only part of coal's threat to health. 

Coal combustion spews lethal emissions that contribute to critical health problems and premature death:

  • Particulate matter from burning coal has been linked to heart attacks, respiratory disease and cancer.
  • Sulfur dioxide, even at the levels permitted by environmental legislation, can cause permanent and irreversible damage to the lungs. 
  • The nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds that coal emits contribute to smog, which aggravates asthma, chronic lung diseases, and pre-existing heart diseases. 
  • And the mercury emitted from coal-burning plants leaves 600,000 infants each year born at risk for mental retardation, autism, or other brain development defects due to their mothers' consumption of mercury-contaminated fish.

Technologies to capture and store carbon dioxide on an industrial scale are estimated to be ten years down the pike.  Yet even if they were available, coal would still remain unacceptably dirty and dangerous.  So we'll say again, as we have said before: 

Clean coal is a dirty lie.

 

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