The unpaid health bill – the health burden of coal power plants
A recent study published on March 7th 2013 ‘The unpaid health bill: How coal power plants make us sick’ estimates that the health cost from air pollution derived from coal-fired power stations is a financial burden to the European population of up to 42.8 billion Euro a year. This estimate takes into account the health costs resulting from PM2.5, SO2 and NOx emissions only (excluding other externalities resulting from processes such as transport, mining, water impacts or other emissions such as mercury or dioxins) and is confined to EU nations only, although the point is emphasised that air pollution crosses borders (travelling hundreds if not thousands of kilometres) and if the estimates were to include Turkey, Croatia and Serbia the figure would be closer to 54.7 billion Euro annually.
This report was developed by the Heal and Environment Alliance (HEAL), a leading European not-for-profit organisation that aims to address how the environment affects health in the European Union. The report details how coal emissions in the EU are responsible for more than 18,200 premature deaths, about 8,500 new cases of chronic bronchitis, and over 4 million lost working days each year. Resulting respiratory and cardiac disease are the most common health effects.
A separate report was also published last week in conjunction with GreenPeace ‘Coal kills: An assessment of death and disease caused by India’s dirtiest energy source’ which found that pollution from coal plants resulted in 85,000-115,000 premature deaths in 2011-2012. Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter and India is our 4th largest market.
As in Australia, the external costs to health (and therefore to individuals, health care budgets and the general community) from coal power generation have been missing in the debate and policy decisions concerning Europe and India’s future energy mix. DEA has advocated strongly for their inclusion in Australia for several years (parliamentary briefings, papers, posters, and countless media interviews and articles) as we work towards promoting health through care of the environment.
Addressing the two-fold burden on human health from coal derived air pollution and climate change could be one of the greatest public health advances of this century, with not only significant health and environmental advantages but also financial ones.