Coal pollution kills 23,000 each year in EU

A new report shows that coal-burning EU countries are responsible for nearly 23,000 premature deaths each year – and those deaths are occurring in neighbouring countries as the harmful dust caused by coal plants travel across borders.

The first ever analysis on the cross-border healthy impacts of EU coal-fired power plants reaches a very firm conclusion: a full coal phase-out in the EU would bring enormous benefits for all citizens across the continent.

Published by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, the WWF European Policy Office and Sandbag, the report Europe’s Dark Cloud analyses the health impacts from air pollution in 257 out of 280 coal-fired power stations across the EU.

It found that in 2013 their emissions caused over 22,900 premature deaths and tens of thousands of cases of coal-related diseases including heart disease and bronchitis, resulting in upwards of EUR 62.3 billion in health costs.

Around half of these premature deaths are caused in neighbouring countries. According to the report, the five EU countries whose coal power plants do the most harm abroad are Poland, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria and the UK. Conversely, the five countries most heavily impacted by coal pollution from neighbouring countries, in addition to that from their own plants, are Germany, Italy, France, Greece and Hungary.

The report also shows that each closed coal power plant reaps massive health benefits to those living nearby as well as those abroad. For example, if the UK phased-out coal by 2025, it could save up to 2,870 lives each year, nearly half of them in continental Europe. Those numbers are even higher in Germany: up to 1,860 premature deaths domestically and nearly 2,500 abroad could be avoided each year if the country phases out coal.

“The report underlines the high costs to health that come with our reliance on coal power generation. And it also debunks the myth that coal is a cheap energy source,” said Anne Stauffner, the deputy director at Health and Environment Alliance.

Dr. Roberto Bertollini, chief scientist and World Health Organization (WHO) representative to the EU, warns that the health impacts of air pollution will be exacerbated by global warming. “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.”


Image credit: Bert Kaufmann, flickr/Creative Commons

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