ION Solar Blog

4 Ugly Truths About Coal

Traditional energy sources have environmental impacts that can be devastating. Coal produces a majority of our electricity and is one of the biggest causes of air pollution worldwide. It has also been linked to major health problems. Here are 4 major environmental impacts of coal:

Carbon Dioxide

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), “Coal is responsible for 228.6 pounds of CO2 emitted per million British thermal units (Btu).”* Coal is the dominant CO2 emissions source related to electricity generation. By the end of 2018, coal accounted for 65% of electric power sector CO2 emissions. Coal is a big contributor to the emission of these deadly toxins.

*A British thermal unit is the energy required to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water by 1°F

Sulfur Dioxide

Sulfur Dioxide gases are formed when fuel containing sulfur (mainly coal and oil) is burned and during other industrial processes. High concentrations of Sulfur Dioxide are associated with multiple health and environmental effects. According to the EIA, air emissions from electric utilities accounted for 72 percent of the nationwide SO2 emissions. Sulfur Dioxide combines with other molecules in the atmosphere to form small, acidic particulates that can penetrate human lungs. It is linked with asthma, bronchitis, smog, and acid rain — which damages crops and other ecosystems and can acidify lakes and streams.

Nitrogen Dioxide

Along with Carbon Dioxide and Sulfur Dioxides, coal also produces Nitrogen Oxides. This also forms acid rain when it enters the atmosphere and reacts with water, oxygen, or other chemicals. According to the National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine, coal is responsible for 51% of world-wide urban emissions of Nitrogen dioxide.

Solid Waste

Coal ash is one of the largest types of industrial waste generated in the United States. In 2012, 470 coal-fired electric utilities generated about 110 million tons of coal ash. This coal ash typically contains a number of substances harmful to human health — arsenic, chromium, lead, and mercury among them. Short-term exposure can bring irritation of the nose and throat, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath. Long-term exposure can lead to liver damage, kidney damage, cardiac arrhythmia, and a variety of cancers.



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