Children Play in Central Java © Greenpeace

Children Play in Central Java © Greenpeace

Access to reliable, affordable and clean electricity has positive impacts on human health. However, the burning of coal for electricity is profoundly damaging to human health.

Coal is responsible for over 800,000 premature deaths per year globally and many millions more serious and minor illnesses. In China alone, around 670,000 people die prematurely per year as a result of coal-related air pollution. The ‘Coal Kills’ report estimates that in India coal contributes to between 80,000 to 115,000 premature deaths annually. In the United States coal kills around 13,000 people annually, and 23,300 in Europe. The economic costs of the health impacts from coal combustion in Europe are valued at about US$70 billion per year, with 250,600 life years lost.

The burning of coal emits hazardous air pollutants that can spread for hundreds of kilometres. Pollutants include particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, mercury and arsenic. Exposure to these pollutants can damage people’s cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous systems, increasing the risk of lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, chronic respiratory diseases and lethal respiratory infections. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with already compromised health suffer most. In addition to pollution originating from power plants, the mining and transport of coal, as well as the disposal of coal ash waste, can have significant impacts on human health.

Over the past few years, pressure from activists, citizens, and public health care professionals has led to seismic shifts in our understanding and regulation of coal. The Chinese government has now banned the construction of new coal plants in the three key economic regions surrounding the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, after citizens complained about the air pollution impacts. European respiratory experts have called air pollution from coal power plants “an ‘invisible killer’ and one of today’s most important public health threats”. There is a growing recognition that coal makes us sick and its cost to human health is unacceptable.


Featured Resources

Coal: A Public Health Crisis (Philippines)

This report reveals for the first time the current health impacts of existing coal-fired power plants as well as projected health impacts of operating and planned power plants in the Philippines. The data shows an estimated 960 premature deaths each year due to stroke, ischemic heart disease, other cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases. If the new power plants are to be developed, premature deaths may rise up to 2,410 or more than double the current number of people dying from coal-related pollution in the Philippines. Read More

The Human Cost of Coal Power: Thailand

As the world prepares to negotiate a global deal at the Conference of the Parties in Paris this December, Thailand finds itself at a crossroad. Will the nation begin the transition away from damaging fossil fuelled energy – fossil fuel that is leading to the premature deaths of thousands of Thai every year – or will it maintain a business-as-usual approach to energy and consolidate the deadly impact of the coal industry in Thailand? Read More

Human Cost of Coal Power: Indonesia

This report documents the human cost of existing and planned coal plants in Indonesia. The report finds that existing coal-fired power plants in Indonesia cause an estimated 6,500 premature deaths every year, and that if all 117 proposed coal plants are built in Indonesia, they could cause an estimated 28,300 premature deaths every year. Read More

The Unpaid Health Bill: how power plants in Turkey make us sick

This report reveals that the total health costs are up to 3.6 billion EUR per year (10.72 billion Turkish Lira) covering costs of premature death, chronic lung disease and heart conditions associated with exposure to polluted air from coal plants. Coal power plant capacity in Turkey is set to almost double over the next four years adding significantly to already high health costs. Read More

EndCoal Fact Sheet Series

These series of fact sheets created by the EndCoal team provide the true facts on coal and its impact on health, climate change and the environment. Currently available in English and Chinese Read More
View All Health Resources »