I have written about the copious amounts of carbon dioxide that coal fired power stations push into the air – far greater amounts per unit of electrical energy than any other form of electrical generation. However, the coal pollution is not limited to carbon dioxide, which warms up our planet. There are other dangerous by products of coal burning.
Of course the actual types of by product depend on the nature and quality of the coal that is burnt, and its energy content.
Most coal burning releases nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. Both chemicals help make rain acidic, which in turn is making the oceans more acidic. It is indicative of the energy companies’ attitude to pollution that although it has been possible to reduce the emissions of sulphur dioxide from coal by 90% for many years, it has taken a European Union Directive about air quality to force the installation of Flue Gas Desulphurisation at Aberthaw Power Station in South Wales.
All coal burning releases soot. Many people die from inhaling soot each year – the United Nations place the figure at 40,000.
All coal burning creates ash and clinker. The ash often contains traces of heavy metals such as cadmium, lead mercury and arsenic. The electricity generators simply dump the ash and clinker, burying it in landfill. The ash and clinker has about as much use as those slag heaps, now largely grassed over, that surrounded coal mines – both ugly and dangerous. It has no use, so it is dumped.
Again it may astonish you to learn that the operators of Didcot Power Station want to dump ash from their coal burners in local lakes, through a pipeline. One small community, Radley, fears the consequences and has explained in detail the proposal at http://www.radleyvillage.org.uk/ourvillage/Didcot_PFA/background.htm .
Most coal burning release mercury into the atmosphere. Some species of fish are very good at absorbing mercury and that makes eating those species dangerous for the very young and for pregnant women, as I have explained elsewhere on these posts.
Of course in release these and other by products, the power station operators are simply trying to maximise their profits from power generation because environmentally friendly expenses stand in their way of profits. They sell their electricity to us, and virtually all of us are more interested in buying the product as cheaply as we can, regardless of the environmental consequences.
Filed under: carbon dioxide, carbon emissions, climate change, Coal, electricity, energy, global warming, pollution Tagged: | aberthaw, air quality, ash, clinker, coal burning, didcot, Flue Gas Desulphurisation, mercury, nitrogen dixode, Radley, slag heaps, sulphur dioxide