Air Clean Up

  • Up to 34,000 Deaths from European Coal Plants, Study Suggests

Up to 34,000 Deaths from European Coal Plants, Study Suggests

Apr 23 2021

A new pan-European study has found that as many as 34,000 people could be dying prematurely as a result of exposure to the emissions produced by coal plants throughout the continent. Although the official findings of the research say that concentrations of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) are responsible for at least 16,800 deaths each year, it’s feared that air quality is actually far worse than the estimations given by regional monitoring stations, hence the revised higher figure.

The study is yet more proof that coal-fired power plants have a disastrous impact on the lungs of both those living in their vicinity and even people hundreds of miles away, due to the travelling abilities of PM2.5. What’s more, coal plants are also the single biggest driver of global warming, which is why it’s imperative that governments follow the lead of scientists to slow climate change by transitioning to cleaner sources of energy generation as quickly as possible.

The human cost

The research, which was undertaken by the Climate and Atmosphere Research Centre at the Cyprus Institute, focused on data supplied by the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register. This body collects and stores information on the emissions generated by coal power stations in the EU and neighbouring countries, including Norway, Switzerland and the UK.

After creating a map of pollution based upon that data, and comparing it to a theoretical one in which no coal power plants were present, the researchers then used sophisticated modelling software to determine what difference the air quality disparity would have made to the death toll. In their investigations, they focused primarily on cardiovascular complications such as lung cancer and coronary heart disease.

According to the official statistics, the concentrations of PM2.5 generated by coal plant emissions were responsible for at least 16,800 deaths per annum, within a range of 14,800 to 18,700. However, given that the data in certain countries is likely to be an underestimation, the authors of the paper adjusted their conclusions to a figure of 33,900, within a range of 33,000 to 37,600.

Innocent parties at risk

Unsurprisingly, those countries which still rely on coal for a significant proportion of their energy generation needs – such as Germany and Poland – showed higher numbers of deaths associated with emissions. However, it was the eastern European countries situated downwind from these coal powerhouses who suffered the brunt of their deleterious effects.

For example, the research revealed that Poland suffers between 1,470 and 1,840 deaths annually, while in Germany, the figure is somewhere between 1,800 and 2,260. While still alarmingly high, that death toll pales in comparison to the ones in Bulgaria, Greece and Romania, which recorded between 2,800 and 3,600 premature deaths as a result of exposure to coal-related PM2.5 each year, despite not having many or any coal plants within their borders.

Therefore, it’s crucial not just for the citizens of those countries implicated, but for the broader European population, that coal is phased out as soon as possible. In the meantime, mitigating technologies (such as gas analysis for carbon capture and storage) could be a stopgap solution, but only a complete shutdown of all power plants will have the desired effects.


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