Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Coal Disaster

By Howard Switzer

It's being called a huge environmental disaster but, unlike Katrina, the TVA coal ash pond dam collapse disaster was not caused by the environment. Rather, this disaster was caused by the continued use of a dirty, poisonous fuel used in an outdated and inefficient mode of energy production -- coal. Earthen dams holding the toxic materials from burning coal fail all the time.

While several homes were damaged by the collapse and no injuries were reported, one can expect the toxic mix of arsenic, lead, barium, chromium and manganese -- the toxic materials concentrated in the ash -- to have a lasting effect on the health of those living downstream.

Coal kills. It has a long history of doing so. Today it is estimated that over 64 million Americans breathe air that has so much particle pollution that it puts their health at risk. Coal is estimated to cause 25,000 deaths in the U.S. every year from diseases caused by breathing particles and soot from coal emissions. Besides the microscopic particles linked to asthma and heart disease there are other health effects as well as the forest killing acid rain.