According to a recent report titled Europe’s Dark Cloud, 22,900 premature deaths are caused each year in the European Union by coal dust. 11,800 new cases of chronic bronchitis and 21,900 hospital admissions in 2013 were also linked to coal plants.
Particulate matter was linked to over 80% of the premature deaths and the following causes: heart disease, stroke, chronic lung disease, and lung cancer. It is also known as PM and is made up of extremely tiny particles of liquid and solids which are released when coal is burned and transported by winds.
Coal plants in Germany and Poland were thought to be responsible for more deaths abroad than domestically. 2,490 premature deaths abroad and 1,860 domestically resulted from Germany’s coal plants. 4,690 premature deaths abroad and 1,140 domestically were caused by Polish coal plants, according to the report.
“Air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths worldwide. Higher temperatures resulting from climate change will exacerbate the problem. The good news is that reducing our use of fossil fuels — including harmful emissions from coal — provides a unique opportunity to improve air quality and mitigate climate change thus protecting health from the greatest public health challenge of this century,” explained Dr. Roberto Bertollini, a World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to the EU.
One of the reasons coal dust can be so damaging, according to the report, is that it can travel hundreds of kilometers. So, even though it may be emitted in areas which are not next to human population centers, coal dust can be carried by winds much greater distances than we might expect.
Another way of measuring coal’s impact is in dollars, and a Harvard University study found coal costs about $500 billion a year, though this research was focused on the US, not the EU.
The authors of Europe’s Dark Cloud are Lauri Myllyvirta and Rosa Gierens from Greenpeace, Dave Jones from Sandbag, Julia Huscher from the Health and Environment Alliance, Joanna Flisowska and Kathrin Gutmann from Climate Action Network Europe, and Darek Urbaniak and Sarah Azau from the WWF European Policy Office.