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2009 Nov 12 - Dirty Coal Power

Dirty Coal Power

We all use electricity in our daily lives, almost without thinking about it -- turning on the lights, listening to the radio, watching TV and using computers. If we stopped and learned about the energy we use, we would encounter some shocking realities about the impacts of the energy production process on the environment and our health.

Where Our Power Comes From

With all the amazing technological advancements over the last century, one thing that has not changed very much is our reliance on fossil fuels, in particular, dirty coal to generate electricity. More than half of the electricity generated in the world comes from coal. As the producer of the largest share of world energy, coal-fired plants are also some of the dirtiest.

Coal-Fired Power Plants Creating Pollution

Many older coal-fired power plants have enjoyed a loophole in the Clean Air Act, allowing them to avoid modernizing with pollution controls. As a result, as many as 600 existing power plants are between 30-50 years old and are up to 10 times dirtier than new power plants built today. When the Clean Air Act was proposed around the world, this loophole was included to get it passed because government assumed that newer plants would come into compliance with the Clean Air Act standards and soon replace the older more polluting plants. For a variety of reasons, including efforts to heavily subsidize coal, this has not happened. Therefore, we are now faced with a disproportionate amount of pollution coming from these old, dirty, under-controlled plants.

Air pollution from coal-fired power plants

Out of the entire electric industry, coal-fired power plants contribute 96% of sulfur dioxide emissions, 93% of nitrogen oxide emissions, 88% of carbon dioxide emissions, and 99% of mercury emissions.


When nitrogen oxide (NOx) reacts with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and sunlight ground level ozone, or smog forms. Power plants are second only to automobiles as the greatest source of NOx emissions. NOx emissions from huge dirty coal plants with tall smokestacks in the midwest are often blamed for increased smog levels in many eastern regions because smog and its precursor pollutants are easily transported hundreds of miles downwind from pollution sources. More than 2000 million people continue to breath unhealthy, smog polluted air worldwide.

When inhaled, smog causes a burning of the cell wall of the lungs and air passages. This eventually weakens the elasticity of the lungs, making them more susceptible to infections and injury and causing asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses. This danger is present for anyone who inhales smog, although children, elderly, and those with respiratory problems are at a higher risk of developing health problems associated with smog pollution. A University School of Medicine study found that over time, repeated exposure to smog and other air pollutants can cause as much damage to the lungs as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.


The burning of coal emits sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) gases, which can form fine particles, or soot, when they react with the atmosphere. In addition, coal-fired power plants also emit soot directly from their smokestacks. Scientists increasingly believe soot to be the most dangerous air pollutant, blaming it for thousands of deaths per year worldwide, which is almost twice the number of deaths due to auto crashes. Cutting power plant pollutants by 75% would avoid most of those deaths.

Soot causes bacterial and viral respiratory infections like pneumonia, as well as chronic lung diseases, like asthma, that destroy lives over the course of years. Soot from power plants triggers an estimated 1,000,000 asthma attacks worldwide every year. Bringing old plants up to modern standards would be avoiding 1,000,000 of these attacks. In addition, studies have found that soot may cause heart attacks and arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and that the incidence of strokes and heart failure is greater in areas with high levels of soot.

Acid Rain

Acid rain is formed when sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) react with water and oxygen in the atmosphere to form acidic compounds, most commonly sulfuric and nitric acid. These compounds can become incorporated into natural precipitation and fall to the earth as rain or snow. Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of SO2, 66%, and second to automobiles in NOx emissions. Acid rain destroys the ecosystems, including streams and lakes, upsetting the delicate balance and making them unable to support life. It also can destroy forests, killing plant and animal life and eats away at man-made monuments and buildings, effectively destroying our natural and historical treasures.

Power plants are one of the largest sources of toxic metal compound pollution. Together they released more than two billion pounds of toxic pollution in 1998, including 9 million pounds of toxic metals and metal compounds and 1200 million pounds of dangerous acid gases. Many of these compounds are known or suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins and can cause acute respiratory problems, and aggravate asthma and emphysema.
One of the most dangerous toxins emitted is mercury. Coal contains trace amounts of mercury that are released into the air when the fuel is burned to produce electricity. The health hazard results when mercury falls to the earth with rain, snow, and in dry particles.

Mercury is a serious toxin, and accidental high-level exposure can result in severe nervous system damage, even death. But exposure to toxic mercury primarily affects fetal development. In unborn children, it can influence the development of the brain and nervous system. When infants are exposed to toxic mercury by their mothers through breast milk, the result can be extremely dangerous and can cause delays in walking, talking, and fine motor skills. The primary exposure pathway for most people is through consumption of fish with high levels of methyl mercury, the toxic form of mercury that accumulates in fish and shellfish and the animals that eat those fish, including humans. More than 70% of the fish advisories issued in 2002 were for mercury contamination.

Global Warming

Burning fossil fuels such as coal releases carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution. Power plants emit 40% of world’s carbon dioxide pollution, the primary global warming pollutant. In 1999, coal-fired power plants alone released 1200.5 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere (32% of the total CO2 emissions for 1999). Currently there is 30% more CO2 in the atmosphere than there was at the start of the Industrial Revolution, and we are well on the way to doubling CO2 levels in the atmosphere during this century.

The 1990s were the hottest decade on record. Average global temperatures rose one degree Fahrenheit during the last century and the latest projections are for an average temperature increase of two to as much as ten degrees during this century. In February 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that global warming threatens human populations and the world's ecosystems with worsening heat waves, floods, drought, and extreme weather and by spreading infectious diseases. To address the problem of global warming, steps need to be taken to slash the amount of CO2 power plants emit. We need to switch from burning coal to cleaner burning natural gas and dramatically increase energy efficiency and renewable wind and solar energy. (More about clean energy as a solution to the global warming crisis)

What Can Be Done?

By the Government:
The government should expand the Clean Air Act to include protections from old and dirty power plants and provide batter and more incentives for the use of cleaner fuels. The government should also work towards the replacement of the existing infrastructure with a more sustainable means of producing green and non-conventional electricity such as Solar, wind, geo-thermal, ocean thermal energy conservation, wave and tidal power. Bi0-gas and Wastes-to renewable energy technology should also be developed.

By individuals:
Individuals can help by conserving electricity in the home and office by:
• replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs;
• caulking and weather-strip doorways and windows;
• installing low-flow showerheads and faucets;
• keeping the furnace and air conditioner working properly;
• buying energy-efficient electronics and appliances and make sure to turn them off when they're not in use;
• Raise awareness in the community by speaking with friends and neighbors and by; writing, faxing, calling and emailing to representatives in government about green energy promotion.

SAPP Policies

SAPP's 17 point Manifesto - Sabah deserves better in terms of more equitable distribution of opportunities, in social, economic and infrastructural development and a better quality of life. [BM][Chinese]

SAPP's Economic Plan for Sabah - SAPP aims to achieve economic prosperity and financial self-reliance for Sabah. Version in [BM] [Chinese]

SAPP's Land Reform Policy - To promote and protect the rights and interests of local natives and other citizens in Sabah [BM][Chinese]

On Oil Royalty - SAPP is not giving up its struggle for more oil royalty payment for Sabah.

SAPP's Eight (8) Points Declaration - Whereas our mission is to establish a trustworthy govt and a progressive ...

SAPP's 14 point memo in 2006 - Time for Direct Preventive Actions

SAPP Constitution (booklet)

Our Sabah..

Books on ....
RCI Report on Immigrants in Sabah
The Birth of Malaysia
Malaysia Agreement Article 1-11
The Original Agreement of Malaysia
Heroes of Kinabalu 神山美烈誌
Schedule 9 of the Federal Constitution

more on ...
Twenty points safeguard
20 Perkara
Illegals & IC issues
Bernas Monopoly
No to coal-fired plant
Sabah Gas pipeline
3 million acres oil blocks ceded
The Formation of Msia & Devt in Sabah
Proclamation of Msia 1963...details
Restore Sabah's right to appoint JCs,
Ex-minister: Review 20-point
Supply Sarawak power to Sabah...
Sedition Act 1948
Continental Shelf Act 83 (1966)
Petroleum Development Act 144 (1974)
Petroleum Oil Agreement (1976)


SAPP bid to discuss Sabah claim rejected
Take action against anti-Malaysia elements
Call for Philippines Consulate in Sabah
Get the RM1 billion and solve the QEH debacle
SAPP's objection of coal-fired plants in Sabah
SAPP: Explain the RM 601 loan to KL company
The missing billion ringgit "special grant"
SAPP on SEDIA Bill 2009
SAPP supports the call for the abolishment of Cabotage Policy
Probe illegals having Mykad also
Political Autonomy for Sabah
Sabah Schools still awaiting share of RM30 million
Special fund: Eric wants ACA probe
Oil royalty: SAPP not giving up
Scrap Bernas monopoly on rice
More News in Search Archive.....

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