Coal plants are some of the most polluting industrial facilities on earth. The pollution emitted from their smokestacks has a profound impact on human health and the environment. Find out more about the effects.Or, go directly to an effect:
Effect: Global Warming
Effect: Respiratory Ailments
Effect: Water Pollution
Effect: Global WarmingGlobal warming is the greatest environmental challenge of our time. Reducing our reliance on coal-fired electricity by replacing it with clean, renewable sources of energy will help us avoid the worst aspects of climate disruption. Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the United States, accounting for more than a third of total emissions.
Effect: Respiratory AilmentsCoal-fired power plant pollution both causes and worsens respiratory illnesses like asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis. Heart attacks have been associated with even short-term air pollution exposure. Nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and particulate matter (PM) are the major culprits. But these pollutants also produce ozone (O3, a.k.a. smog), and additional particle pollution in the form of nitrates and sulfates.
Effect: HazeImagine visiting Mt. Rainier or Canyonlands National Park only to find priceless vistas obscured by a gray haze. Unfortunately, national parks and wilderness areas across the U.S. suffer from such compromised views, and coal plant emissions are a large part of the problem. Emissions of particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx) reduce visibility in these areas by as much as two-thirds in the western U.S. and four-fifths in the eastern U.S.
Effect: Water PollutionNot all pollutants leave coal plants through the air. Efforts to reduce air pollution by "scrubbing" pollutants from smokestacks with a mixture of water and chemicals has led to toxic wastewater—often containing heavy metals like selenium (Se) and lead (Pb)—that is typically dumped directly into nearby waterways, threatening drinking water supplies. Additionally, mercury (Hg) released through smokestacks eventually settles on land and in water, where it can accumulate in fish and shellfish and ultimately make its way onto our plates.
Coal ash, the hazardous waste full of toxic metals left over after coal is burned, endangers drinking water as well. Learn more about coal ash.