Current Affairs

Coal Usage & Associated Issues

Coal Usage & Associated Issues

Why In News?

  • The World Bank recently announced that short of exceptional circumstances, they would no longer fund coal in developing regions. The U.S. and other nations are also contemplating driven in part by concerns about climate change. This view may be impractical, if not myopic, given that at least for India, coal isn’t going away anytime soon. Even with a very high Renewable Energy (RE) future, there will be an inevitable growth of energy from Coal based power source.

Where does the problem lie?

  • Coal is polluting, and studies by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), which recently came out with a benchmarking exercise, point out that many plants don’t do very well in terms of local air pollution.
  • Many of the coal plants aren’t run optimally, either from an efficiency perspective or from an environmental one.
  • push for improvements, the only result would be suboptimal and more polluting plants.

Impact of Coal usage :

There are numerous damaging environmental impacts of coal that occur through its mining, preparation, combustion, waste storage, and transport

  • Acid mine drainage(AMD) refers to the outflow of acidic water from coal mines or metal mines, often abandoned mines where ore- or coal mining activities have exposed rocks containing the sulphur-bearing mineral pyrite. Pyrite reacts with air and water to form sulphuric acid and dissolved iron, and as water washes through mines, this compound forms a dilute acid, which can wash into nearby rivers and streams
  • Air pollution from coal-fired power plants includes sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter (PM), and heavy metals, leading to smog, acid rain, toxins in the environment, and numerous respiratory, cardiovascular, and cerebrovascular effects.
  • Climate impacts of coal plants- Coal-fired power plants are responsible for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, making coal a huge contributor to global warming. Black carbon resulting from incomplete combustion is an additional contributor to climate change.
  • The combustion of coal is the largest contributor to the human-made increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. Electric generation using coal burning produces approximately twice the greenhouse gasses per kilowatt compared to generation using natural gas.
  • Coal mining produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Methane is the naturally occurring product of the decay of organic matter as coal deposits are formed with increasing depths of burial, rising temperatures, and rising pressure over geological time
  • Coal fires occur in both abandoned coal mines and coal waste  Internationally, thousands of underground coal fires are burning now. Global coal fire emissions are estimated to include 40 tons of mercury going into the atmosphere annually, and three percent of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Heavy metals and coal– Coal contains many heavy metals, as it is created through compressed organic matter containing virtually every element in the periodic table – mainly carbon, but also heavy metals. The heavy metal content of coal varies by coal seam and geographic region. Small amounts of heavy metals can be necessary for health, but too much may cause acute or chronic toxicity (poisoning). Many of the heavy metals released in the mining and burning of coal are environmentally and biologically toxic elements, such as lead, mercury, nickel, tin, cadmium, antimony, and arsenic, as well as radio isotopes of thorium and strontium.
  • Loss or degradation of groundwater – Since coal seams are often serve as underground aquifers, removal of coal beds may result in drastic changes in hydrology after mining has been completed.
  • Open-pit mining requires large amounts of water for coal preparation plants and dust suppression. To meet this requirement mines acquire and remove surface or groundwater supplies from nearby agricultural or domestic users, which reduces the productivity of these operations or halts them. These water resources (once separated from their original environment) are rarely returned after mining, creating a permanent degradation in agricultural productivity.
  • Surface mining of coal causes direct and indirect damage to wildlife. The impact on wildlife stems primarily from disturbing, removing and redistributing the land surface. Some impacts are short-term, and confined to the mine site; others have far-reaching, long-term effects.
  • The most direct effect on wildlife is destruction or displacement of species in areas of excavation and spoil piling. Pit and spoil areas are not capable of providing food and cover for most species of wildlife.
  • Annual excess mortality and morbidity In 2008 the World Health Organization (WHO) and other organizations calculated that coal particulates pollution cause approximately one million deaths annually across the world, which is approximately one third of all premature deaths related to all air pollution sources.
  • Pollutants emitted by burning coal include fine particulates and ground level ozone. Every year, the burning of coal without the use of available pollution control technology causes thousands of preventable deaths

Question:

Coal based electric plants are in news because of their contribution to greenhouse gases and pollution, yet their immediate phasing out is unviable. Discuss. Highlight different impacts of Coal Industry on human life

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