End of Coal, page-114

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    From the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US.

    When coal burns, the chemical bonds holding its carbon atoms in place are broken, releasing energy. However, other chemical reactions also occur, many of which carry toxic airborne pollutants and heavy metals into the environment.

    This air pollution includes:

    Mercury: Coal plants are responsible for 42 percent of US mercury emissions, a toxic heavy metal that can damage the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, and is a serious threat to the child development. Just 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury deposited on a 25-acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Emissions Inventory, US coal power plants emitted 45,676 pounds of mercury in 2014 (the latest year data is available).

    Sulfur dioxide (SO2): Produced when the sulfur in coal reacts with oxygen, SO2 combines with other molecules in the atmosphere to form small, acidic particulates that can penetrate human lungs. It’s linked with asthma, bronchitis, smog, and acid rain, which damages crops and other ecosystems, and acidifies lakes and streams. US coal power plants emitted more than 3.1 million tons of SO2 in 2014.

    Nitrogen oxides (NOx): Nitrous oxides are visible as smog and irritate lung tissue, exacerbate asthma, and make people more susceptible to chronic respiratory diseases like pneumonia and influenza. In 2014, US coal power plants emitted more than 1.5 million tons.

    Particulate matter: Better known as “soot,” this is the ashy grey substance in coal smoke, and is linked with chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, cardiovascular effects like heart attacks, and premature death. US coal power plants emitted 197,286 tons of small airborne particles (measured as 10 micrometers or less in diameter) in 2014..

    Other harmful pollutants emitted in 2014 by the US coal power fleet include:

    • 41.2 tons of lead, 9,332 pounds of cadmium, and other toxic heavy metals.
    • 576,185 tons of carbon monoxide, which causes headaches and places additional stress on people with heart disease.
    • 22,124 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOC), which form ozone.
    • 77,108 pounds of arsenic. For scale, arsenic causes cancer in one out of 100 people who drink water containing 50 parts per billion.
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