Medical Group Denounces Coal in Critical Report

So you thought smoking cigarettes was bad for your health? Try living next to a coal-fired power plant.

That’s the diagnosis Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) relayed to the public in a comprehensive medical study released on November 18 called Coal’s Assault of Human Health. In it, the organization, comprised of physicians and public health experts, claims that coal pollutants damage every major organ in the human body and contribute to four of the top five leading causes of death in the United States.

Not since NASA’s James Hansen rang the global warming alarm about coal’s major contribution to climate change has there been a more dire call to shut down coal operations in the United States. It is not simply about cleaning up the coal process; it is about halting its production altogether in order to immediately save lives.

At every stage in its life cycle coal can negatively impact human health, from mining operations, cleaning, transportation to burning and disposing of the combustion waste. PSR reports that many Americans are being affected daily by coal and the exposure is contributing to horrible health problems; heart attacks, lung cancer, strokes, asthma among others.

“The findings of this report are clear: while the U.S. relies heavily on coal for its energy needs, the consequences of that reliance for our health are grave,” said Dr. Alan H. Lockwood, a principal author of the report and a professor of neurology at the University at Buffalo.

Recently CoalSwarm, ((This author has contributed research to CoalSwarm.)) an environmental group that monitors coal issues, released a list of 126 coal-fired power plants that are surrounded by 10,000 people or more living within a three-mile radius. Most of these hundreds of thousands of Americans are being exposed to deadly coal particulates without even knowing it.

The majority of the plants are not equipped with the most up to date sulfur dioxide (SO2) reduction equipment, which contributes to lung and heart disease. However, instead of upgrading this technology on coal burners, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollar, a growing number of activists in the Climate Change movement are pushing for facilities to be closed instead, for the upgrades are essentially prolonging the life of plants that are still polluting in many other ways.

The Obama administration does not seem to be listening. Last June the Department of Energy poured $1 billion into relaunching FutureGen, a project that intends to show how a plant can capture carbon emissions.

“The FutureGen project holds great promise as a flagship facility to demonstrate carbon capture and storage at commercial scale,” U.S Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said at the time. “Developing this technology is critically important for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and around the world.”

Chu espouses the notion that coal can be clean, but the FutureGen endeavor, like all other “clean coal” projects, is greenwashing at its dirtiest.

Whenever coal is burned it releases numerous toxins and these pollutants have to go somewhere. If not into the air they will be have to be captured and buried underground, most likely in communities that do not have the resources to fight the coal waste depositories.

Indeed the coal industry is spending $35 million annually to promote their clean-coal technology, which at this point is nothing more than an advertising motto conjured up by high paid PR firms.

However, the money coal companies are spending, not only on public relations but also on lobbying, seem to be paying off. The current climate legislation hurdling its way through Congress is laden with huge subsidies for the coal industry.

Last May when the House of Representatives released a version of the climate bill it became clear which direction the law was heading. In Section 114 of the draft, the coal lobby was able to shore up $11 billion over the next ten years in a new carbon tax that coal companies would collect and then spend through a private corporation they operate and control. The money would finance, not renewable energy sources, but new coal-fired power plants.

While politicians and industry folks believe coal ought to be a part of our energy future, others admittedly disagree.

The PSR report is a raucous call that our current addiction to dirty coal is not only unsustainable and a major source of global warming pollution, it is also extremely deadly to human life. No matter how much money the coal industry throws at the issue, either in an attempt to mitigate coal’s contribution to health problems or to have us believe that coal can be “clean” — people are dieing, approximately 24,000 every single year.

“These stark conclusions leave no room for doubt or delay,” says Kristen Welker-Hood, PSR’s director of environment and health programs. “The time has come for our nation to establish a health-driven energy policy that replaces our dependence on coal with clean, safe alternatives. Business as usual is extracting a deadly price on our health. Coal is no longer an option.”

Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press in June 2008. Check out the Red State Rebels site. Read other articles by Joshua.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on November 26th, 2009 at 9:37am #

    The warlords and economy lords wld probably ask the question, Will shutting dwn coal mines reduce american greatness? And the answer wld be, Yes, it wld make america weaker! Which means as always before, Full ‘progress’ ahead; damn the regress!

    By “american greatness” the modern lords mean that their immense grip on econo-military-educational power wld wane s’mwhat!
    And that is as painful to them as it is to an addict going w.o. or less drugs!
    Holding onto power is as addictive as is drugs or alcohol or thinking the wrong way. tnx

  2. Don Hawkins said on November 26th, 2009 at 10:36am #

    A solution must attack the fundamental problem by placing a rising fee on carbon,
    collected at the mine or port of entry. 100 percent of the fee should be distributed monthly to the
    public. I have argued for 100 percent as a uniform dividend, but 50 percent dividend and 50
    payroll tax deduction would make sense. The dividend is needed because not everyone is on a
    payroll. Fee-and-dividend is a progressive tax, most low-income people will gain more than they
    lose, and it stimulates the economy – it gives the public the means to replace carbon-clunker
    technology with low- and no-carbon technologies, allowing the market place to choose winning
    technologies. Cap-and-trade is a hidden regressive tax, benefitting the select few who have
    managed to get themselves written into the 2000-page bill. How could Washington possibly
    choose lock-in failure over what is obviously the essential approach (they ignore the Larson bill,
    for example)? As I discuss in the book, think revolving door between the government and Wall
    Street. Think revolving door between Congress and lobbyists. Goldman-Sachs makes a mint
    with cap-and-trade (off the public). Goldman-Sachs does not make one thin dime with fee-anddividend. James Hansen

    So far and in the near future what is the chance we could see a real try at this? Zero, bado, ?ifr, éfes, nil, nought, null, líng, not going to happen it’s like the health care bill so far underwater just way to much pressure at those depths and cap and trade same a joke on the human race. The little God’s are angry and not a clue they know not what they do.

  3. lichen said on November 26th, 2009 at 6:09pm #

    Great article. What people seem to not realize is just how toxic and poisonous coal, oil, gas, and nuclear are; they kill humans, destroy our health and ruin our lives in addition to causing catastrophic global warming. They need to be shut down.

  4. Annie Ladysmith said on November 26th, 2009 at 11:33pm #

    A MEDICAL GROUP??? A FREAKING MEDICAL GROUP?? You are going to believe a “STUDY” by a MEDICAL “group” OOOOOOO! PLEASE!!!!!!!

  5. Sheila Velazquez said on November 27th, 2009 at 6:25am #

    Nearly twenty years ago, I believe before global warming had even been given a name, I was involved in setting up the first conference on minority health and the environment in Atlanta. The sponsors were the Department of Health and Human Services and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry ( of the Centers for Disease Control. My task was to create a database of presenters, contributors, attendees, etc. and data analysis. The people who were excited about the new project were with the United Farm Workers, Minority educational institutions, the NAACP, and various social and urban groups, e.g., those who represented the victims.

    The government knew. Big Business knew. Nothing has changed.

  6. Don Hawkins said on November 28th, 2009 at 5:26am #

    So the anti-free speech movement is in big trouble, because more Australians say they’re not going to shut up, cower in fear, or sacrifice their economic and social freedoms.

    Yes the little God’s are angry. So free speech is in big trouble more like ignorance is strength is being questioned and the fight is on sort of to keep the status quo free speech is in big trouble mind boggling.

    Nothing has changed and they know, knew.

  7. Don Hawkins said on November 28th, 2009 at 5:58am #

    By Gavin Evans
    Nov. 28 (Bloomberg) — Firefighters are working to contain 60 bushfires scattered across Australia’s New South Wales State amid high temperatures and forecast strengthening winds.

    Major fires are being controlled near Warialda and Narrabri in the northern part of the state, and around Lithgow and Rylstone northwest of Sydney, according to the state’s Rural Fire Service. Aircraft are also being used to spot any new outbreaks, spokeswoman Rebel Talbert told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

    “We are concerned obviously for these fires, but more so any new fires that do start today and how rapidly they will spread,” she said. “We’re seeing the winds potentially reaching up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) an hour in some areas.”

    It appears not only are the little God’s angry but the big God up there in the sky is a tad bit angry as didn’t he/she say I like to help those that help themselves the day after black Friday. Remember free speech is in trouble. These fires in Australia probably more of those 1000 year events we hear so much about.

  8. Don Hawkins said on November 28th, 2009 at 8:11am #

    GSTAAD, Switzerland (AP) — A lack of snow in Switzerland so far this year is prompting fears that there may be a drop in tourists coming to ski over the Christmas and New Year period.

    Switzerland’s weather service says temperatures in November had reached levels rarely seen since records began over 150 years ago.

    Forecasters say mild winds from the south-west mean temperatures are three degrees higher than average in the Northern Alps.

    The weeks of mild weather have had a huge impact on the levels of snowfall in the Alps. Large patches of grass can be seen on some mountains.

    Residents in one tourist-reliant Alpine resort say they’re worried about the negative effect this could have on their businesses.

    Rarely seen since records began over 150 years ago another one of those thousand year events I am sure and in ten then twenty years we will hear ok 100 year storm as we also hear,

    “Be well this is the people’s radio station. First reports this morning are saying more troops are massing on the Southern boarder of Russia. China has called for calm and trying to get food and water to the estimated 200 million people now on the Northern boarded. Reports out of India are hard to get and the best we know today July 2029 India is still under Marshall law. The fires in California have stopped for now and the central valley is almost uninhabitable and LA still under Marshall law gas in short supply and Long Range Acoustic Devices reported in many part’s of the city. Temperatures in Southern California are expected to reach records again today. The government is asking for calm in Texas and promising more water and food and gas as people move North. Flooding again in the Northeast and more new settlements on the border with Canada. The government and NASA again in talk’s to see if aerosol injection into Earth’s atmosphere can be used. All for now and temperature updates in one hour save energy be well”.

  9. Don Hawkins said on November 28th, 2009 at 12:59pm #

    Watching media and today when they give the weather it’s cold and snow in some places see no palm trees in Minnesota or alligators what problem? Of course they don’t say that just sort of infra it. That will work a little while longer. Wheat, rice, corn, soy beans, water a little while longer.

  10. Rinaldo Sorgenti said on November 30th, 2009 at 11:13am #

    Quite a delirant Report.
    Just a simple example of it:
    “But coal combustion also
    has indirect health effects, through
    its contribution to greenhouse gas
    emissions. Global warming is already
    negatively impacting public health
    and is predicted to have widespread
    and severe health consequences in
    the future.”
    Poor World.

    When you will be able to stop the use of motor vehicles, we could start discussing about it.