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License: All rights reserved. Credit: Will Rose

UK coal plants cause 1,600 premature deaths

Christine Ottery
EU Energydesk editor. Previously worked for the Guardian and New Scientist.

The UK’s coal-fired power stations are responsible for 1,600 premature deaths each year, meaning deaths that could have been avoided, according to estimates from the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).

HEAL also attributes air pollution from coal-fired plants in the UK to: 68,000 additional days of medication, 363,266 lost working days and more than a million cases of lower respiratory tract symptoms.

These figures were calculated using a system to extrapolate health impacts from air pollution data from 2009. This model, which is based on the scientifically-proven relationship between air pollution and the risk of death or disease, is also used by the EU to analyse impact of air pollution.

The cost of these theoretical premature deaths and illnesses as a result of the UK’s coal power fleet amounts to £1.1 to £3.1bn, HEAL estimates.

According to an European Environment Agency (EEA) league table of the worst polluters by health impacts, the UK’s Drax plant ranks seven and Longannet ranks eleven, causing combined estimated health impacts of up to around £1.9bn.

Some of this cost to human health and impact on the public purse occurs within the UK, and some of it occurs in neighbouring countries in a manifestation of the ‘trans-boundary effect’, which means air pollution travels across borders. The most affected countries from UK emissions are Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands, followed by Sweden, France and Germany to a lesser extent.

This swings both ways, with France (10-12%), Germany (5-10%) and others contributing to air pollution in the UK, according to a recent analysis by EEA. See the map below showing the effect of the emissions from nine lignite-powered plants in Germany travelling to the UK and other countries - in terms of the estimated years of life lost.

 

Air pollution has been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s cancer research agency as a leading environmental cause of cancer [PDF]. 

The WHO says chronic exposure to particulate matter in the air, which makes up air pollution, can contribute to the risk of lung cancer, and mortality rates in cities with high levels of pollution are 15-20% more than cleaner cities. For example, in London, the risk  of developing lung cancer goes up by an additional 7 to15% with exposure to air pollution – regardless of whether a person smokes or not – according to the HEAL analysis.

Air pollution is also implicated in heart disease and chronic respiratory tract conditions.

Outdoor air pollution is made up of a complex mixture of various organic and non-organic matter, which includes nitrates, sulphate and carbon. Burning coal is associated with high sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions, which react to form particulate matter in the air, along with dust or other primary source substances.

The air pollution data used by HEAL comes from a database of combustion plants held by the EEA, and included nitrate oxides, sulphur dioxide and dust. 

HEAL's analysis focusing on the impacts in the UK follows a Europe-wide study in March, which found more than 18,000 deaths in the EU could be linked to coal power plants in 2009. This summer a study by the University of Stuttgart and Greenpeace found coal plants currently operating around Europe could have contributed towards 22,000 premature deaths in 2010 

Comments Add new comment

Thank you for presenting us such useful information!

Please show smoke belching from the chimneys of coal fired power stations,and not steam from the cooling towers, my children are totally confused by this,i want to show them the cause for all this pollution.

Many thanks.

p.rogers

Studies such as these needs to be put into perspectives and Green Peace know this but still insist on distorting the output of such studies, which I stress is only a study. Studies have shown that total premature deaths due to combustion pollution of all types in UK  MAY be of the order of 13,0000 [although this is not proven it is the result of a computer model].  All traffic combustion emissions deaths exceeds the coal fired power plant premature death number and the studies showed that this was 7,500 deaths. Road traffic pollution alone was calculated at 4,900 deaths. Power generation caused according to this study 2,500 deaths when the study was undertaken however emissions from outside of the UK caused a further 6,000 deaths. However it should be stressed this is a study and not definitive evidence.  For example the effects of other combustion emissions from many other sources such as smaller local industries, agriculture, land management, domestic coal and log fires, graden waste etc may also have an additive effect but these are not accounted for and these ground level concentrations may have a significant impact.  

These estimates are based on a study that modelled the levels of pollution across the UK and predicted its impact on premature deaths. The study combined UK and EU emissions data with models of weather and the ways in which chemicals disperse. This allowed researchers to estimate the impact of pollution across the UK. According to the model, pollution from overall UK combustion emissions causes approximately 13,000 premature deaths a year, with road transport being the biggest source. A further 6,000 deaths are estimated to be due to European Union emissions produced outside the UK.

It is not helpful or good science to portray the type of headline that Greenpeace all too often publish such as this and showing the cooling towers of a power plant which distorts and detracts from the purpose for which the study was intended.  There are risks and benefits of all technologies adopted for transport, energy and chemical production all of which modern society depends upon and without which the standards of living and nations wealth would not be able to support the very things that Greenpeace aspire to. Green peace would be well advised to refrain from scurrying around in the dirt trying to denigrade anything which does not fit with their utopian view of the world which has and never will exist.

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These estimates are based on a study that modelled the levels of pollution across the UK and predicted its impact on premature deaths. The study combined UK and EU emissions data with models of weather and the ways in which chemicals disperse. This allowed researchers to estimate the impact of pollution across the UK. According to the model, pollution from overall UK combustion emissions causes approximately 13,000 premature deaths a year, with road transport being the biggest source. A further 6,000 deaths are estimated to be due to European Union emissions produced outside the UK. sourec : <a href= "http://www.habibudin.id/">habibudin.id</a>

It is not helpful or good science to portray the type of headline that Greenpeace all too often publish such as this and showing the cooling towers of a power plant which distorts and detracts from the purpose for which the study was intended.  There are risks and benefits of all technologies adopted for transport, energy and chemical production all of which modern society depends upon and without which the standards of living and nations wealth would not be able to support the very things that Greenpeace aspire to. Green peace would be well advised to refrain from scurrying around in the dirt trying to denigrade anything which does not fit with their utopian view of the world which has and never will exist.

 

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