Yet more evidence that the air we breathe is growing more and more toxic.
Air pollution from Europe’s coal plants could be responsible for up to 34,000 deaths across the continent each year, a new study at the Climate and Atmosphere Research Centre at the Cyprus Institute, told The Independent: “We indicate that there is likely an underestimation of coal power plant source strengths in the official emissions inventory.”
The burning of coal for power also causes the release of pollutants that can be seriously harmful to human health, including fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter that can penetrate deep into the lungs when inhaled. This PM2.5 pollution has been linked to a wide range of health conditions, including respiratory illnesses, strokes and heart attacks.
The new research finds that PM2.5 pollution from Europe’s coal plants causes at least 16,800 excess deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases each year. However, the real level of pollution from coal plants could be higher than official tolls, so this figure could be as high as 33,900, the study says.
The scientists studied deaths from lung cancer, coronary heart disease, lower respiratory disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), among others.The findings suggest that, across Europe, PM2.5 pollution from coal power plants causes at least 16,800 excess deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases each year, with a possible range of 14,800 to 18,700. However, when underestimates in official coal power pollution data are taken into consideration, this figure rises to 33,900 – with a possible range of 33,000 to 37,600.
The findings show that the number of excess deaths from coal power pollution are high in the European countries with the greatest number of existing coal power plants, including Poland and Germany. However, the highest excess death rates from coal were found in the eastern European countries located downwind of major emitter Poland. These countries included Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania, Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Croatia.
Even the UK, the study estimates that coal plant pollution causes at least 1,270 to 1,670 excess deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease each year in the UK.