photo: The Sierra Club
For the average TreeHugger reader the environmental costs of coal are probably well known--massive emissions of CO2 and other air pollutants, potential deadly spills of stored coal ash, ecosystem devastation when waste is dumped in stream and valleys, after entire mountaintops are removed to mine the coal--but what may not be so well known, or at least quantified, is the human cost on areas where coal mining predominates. A new study by researchers from West Virginia University and Washington State University quantifies it, and the results aren't pretty:"Mortality in Appalachian Coal Mining Regions: The Value of Statistical Life Lost" shows that illness and premature death in coal mining regions far outweigh any economic benefits.
Health Costs Far Outpace Coal Revenue
Looking at statistics from 2005 (the latest for which mortality rates are available) the researchers found that though coal mining brought in about $8 billion to the state coffers of Appalachian states, the costs of the shorter life-spans associated with coal mining operations were nearly $17 billion to $84.5 billion.
Coal mining areas in Appalachia were found to have nearly 11,000 more deaths each year than other places in the nation, with 2,300 of those attributable to environmental factors such as air and water pollution.
Coal Affects Everyone, Not Just Miners
And if you think it's just the miners themselves that are at risk, you're wrong. Report author Michael Hendryx points out,
Those who are falling ill and dying are not just the coal miners. Everyone who lives near the mines or processing plants or transportation centers is affected by chronic socioeconomic weakness that takes a toll on longevity and health.
Areas Without Coal Do Better
Hendryx makes the leap to policy prescription and says that coal companies and government try to tell people that the coal industry brings needed jobs to these regions, but that just isn't the case. Rather, areas without coal mining in fact do far better as they develop alternative industries that don't have the negative health and socioeconomic effects so clearly linked with coal mining.
hat tip: Cleantechnica
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