Killer Coal

Black lung has been the underlying or contributing cause of death for more than 75,000 coal miners since 1968, according to NIOSH, the federal agency responsible for conducting research on work-related diseases and injuries. Since 1970, the Department of Labor has paid over $44 billion in benefits to miners totally disabled by respiratory diseases (or their survivors). The annual death rate from mining accidents is 20-25 per 100,000, about six times the average industry. If you do the math, that means comes out to about six deaths per thousand workers over the course of a thirty-year career as a miner. This is actually an underestimate because the government figures include office workers employed in the industry.

Miners aren’t the only victims. There’s also air pollution. Even with the pollution controls in place in developed countries, coal remains deadly. According to a 2011 report of the American lung association, particulate pollution from coal-fired power plants causes about thirteen thousand deaths per year. Indeed, according to the report: “Coal-fired power plants that sell electricity to the grid produce more hazardous air pollution in the U.S. than any other industrial pollution sources.”

Of course, things would be much worse if it weren’t for EPA. Just look at China, which has done very little to control pollution from power plants. According to a recent study:

Air pollution causes people in northern China to live an average of 5.5 years shorter than their southern counterparts. . . .

High levels of air pollution in northern China – much of it caused by an over-reliance on burning coal for heat – will cause 500 million people to lose an aggregate 2.5 billion years from their lives, the authors predict in the study, published in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To put it in as few words as possible: coal kills.




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Reader Comments

One Reply to “Killer Coal”

  1. Coal helps us live. Yes, it brings risks, too, as all life-supporting action does, but we can’t live without energy, and coal is a marvelous source of inexpensive, remarkably clean energy. Try burning wood, or peat, as an alternative.

    A recent [industry sponsored] study estimated that by 2015, in the U.S., coal-fueled electric generation will both directly and indirectly contribute around $1 trillion in gross economic output, $362 billion in annual household income and 6.8 million job-years. Coal provides at least half the electricity in 17 states and at least one quarter of the electricity in 31 states. Globally, coal was responsible for 39 percent of electricity produced in 2012. Stop using coal today, and tens of millions will die.

    Since 2001, real energy costs for middle- and low-income families have increased by 27 percent. Higher energy prices have a particularly devastating impact on low- and fixed-income families. Fixed-income seniors are a growing proportion of the U.S. population, and are among the most vulnerable to energy cost increases due to their relatively low average incomes. In 2012, the median gross income of 27.9 million households with a principal householder aged 65 or older was $33,848, one-third below the national median household income. When prices rise but income remains the same, Americans are forced to make tough choices. Do I pay for the utility bill or medication? Do I heat my home or shop for groceries?

    Any form of energy production brings costs with it. All forms involve dangers in exploration and production, all involve pollution. Coal exploration and energy generation is much safer and cleaner today, than it ever has been.

    The alternative to efficient and economical energy production is human disaster on a scale far beyond all human wars combined. There are no economic substitutes available to replace coal at this time – although, natural gas could make a major contribution.

    Those who would ban coal production and coal-generated electricity, are not concerned about lives.

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

READ more