Mountain Top Removal, Appalachia © Nicole Ghio/Sierra Club

Mountain Top Removal, Appalachia © Nicole Ghio/Sierra Club

Safe, affordable and accessible water is one of our planet’s scarcest natural resources. The planned expansion of the coal industry threatens to further deplete and pollute this vital resource.

Coal plants consume vast amounts of water for cooling and steam production. A typical 1000 MW coal plant uses enough water in one year to meet the basic water needs of half a million people. Globally, coal plants consume about 8% of our total water demand. The coal industry’s thirst for water is particularly concerning given that some of the largest coal producing and consuming countries, including India, China, Australia and South Africa, already face water stress and are currently planning enormous build-outs of their coal industries. For example, in India 79% of planned new power stations are in areas that are already water scarce or stressed.

Coal is also a major polluter. At each stage of the coal production and use cycle, water is polluted at levels that significantly harm water quality, ecosystems and human health. Heavy metals and toxins such as mercury, lead and arsenic are found in coal ash, coal slurry and coal waste, which when improperly managed can contaminate groundwater, rivers and seas. In humans these pollutants can cause cancer, birth defects, reproductive problems, damage to the nervous system and kidneys, and learning disabilities in children. Often colorless and out of public view, the contaminants from the coal life cycle are an invisible menace to our health and environment.


Featured Resources

INVESTOR BRIEFING: Water Shortages Threaten Coal Company Revenues

This 24-page briefing reveals that, despite the owners of six major coal plants losing about US$350 million in income, over 50,000 megawatts (MW) of new coal power plants are planned in areas of high water stress. Read More

The Great Water Grab

This report for the first time evaluates and discloses the severe global impacts that our continuing reliance on coal-fired power is having on the world's fresh water resources. The world’s rapidly dwindling freshwater resources could be further depleted if plans for hundreds of new coal power plants worldwide go ahead, threatening severe drought and competition. The report finds that the world's coal plants consume enough freshwater to sustain 1 billion people. Read More

Insatiable Thirst: how coal consumes and contaminates our water

One of our planet's scarcest natural resources - safe, affordable and accessible water - is under threat from the coal industry. Vast amounts of freshwater are consumed and polluted during coal mining, transport and power generation. This factsheet outlines the major threats to water resources from continued coal expansion. Read More

Revealed: Coal Mines polluting South Kalimantan’s water

Greenpeace has uncovered evidence that the intensive coal mining activities in Indonesia’s South Kalimantan province are discharging toxic pollution into rivers, and in some instances, violating national standards for wastewater discharges from mines. Local environmental authorities have failed to stop or prevent the violations. Due to the large amount of coal mining, almost half of the province’s rivers are at risk of being affected by water pollution from the mines. Read More

The Dirty Facts About Coal: Impacts of Coal on Health and the Environment

At each stage of its life cycle, coal pollutes the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land that we depend on. The factsheet describes the impacts of coal mining, preparation, transport and combustion. Read More
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