A recent study led by George Mason University, The University of Texas at Austin, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has uncovered disturbing statistics regarding the impact of coal-fired power plants on American lives. The research, published in Science on November 23, 2023, highlights the severe health risks of these plants’ exposure to fine particulate air pollutants and how coal energy kills an astonishing number of Americans yearly.
The study from 1999 to 2020 examined Medicare and emissions data, revealing that exposure to coal energy kills an astonishing number of Americans through particulate matter (coal PM2.5) and carries a mortality risk more than double that of exposure to PM2.5 from other sources. Astonishingly, 460,000 deaths in the U.S. during this period were attributed to coal PM2.5, with the highest toll occurring between 1999 and 2007.
Unlike previous studies assuming equal toxicity, this research emphasizes that coal PM2.5 is significantly more harmful. The study’s lead author, Lucas Henneman, stresses the underestimated mortality burden, urging policymakers to consider cleaner energy alternatives.
Utilizing emissions data from 480 coal power plants, the researchers mapped coal sulfur dioxide dispersion and its conversion into PM2.5. Visualized in an online tool, the findings ranked specific power plants by their contribution to coal PM2.5 mortality. Encouragingly, deaths from coal pollution have significantly decreased since 1999.
While acknowledging the success in reducing coal-related deaths, senior author Corwin Zigler emphasizes the study’s ongoing relevance. Coal power persists in some U.S. states, and global coal use is projected to rise. The researchers hope their findings guide policymakers toward a healthier energy future.
Key entities dedicated to public health and environmental research supported the groundbreaking study, shedding light on the alarming mortality rates linked to coal pollution. The National Institutes of Health was pivotal in funding the research, showcasing a commitment to advancing scientific understanding and improving public health outcomes.
The Environmental Protection Agency, known for its mission to safeguard human health and the environment, contributed crucial financial backing to enable the comprehensive examination of the impacts of coal-fired power plants on mortality rates. The EmPOWER Air Data Challenge, focusing on harnessing data for environmental insights, provided essential support, aligning with the study’s goal of uncovering the health implications of coal particulate matter.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, recognized for supporting research across various fields, further endorsed the study. Their commitment to fostering scientific advancements underscores the importance of exploring coal energy’s health and environmental repercussions.
Lastly, the Health Effects Institute, a reputable organization dedicated to researching the health effects of air pollution, contributed vital funding. Collectively, these entities played a crucial role in bringing forth insights highlighting the severe consequences of coal pollution and guiding future policy considerations toward cleaner and healthier energy alternatives.