Why Coal is a Problem

The Coal Lifecycle


Large tracts of lands are often cleared and communities displaced for coal mines.

To expose coal seams, water may be pumped out of the ground, lowering the water table and reducing the amount of water available for agriculture, domestic use and wildlife. 

Excavated rock is piled up in enormous waste dumps adjacent to the mines. Heavy metals and minerals trapped in the waste rock are mobilised once exposed to air and water and can contaminate surface and groundwater.


After coal is mined, it is often prepared for combustion in coal preparation plants.

Coal is usually crushed, washed with water and other chemicals to reduce impurities such as clay, sulphur and heavy metals, and dried. Some chemicals used to “wash” coal are carcinogens; others are linked to lung and heart damage.

The resulting wastewater, known as coal slurry, is typically stored in slurry ponds, which can leak and contaminate surface and groundwater.


The transport of coal by train, truck, ship or barge is also a potential health threat to communities living along transport corridors. Coal trains, trucks and barges emit coal dust, sometimes at intense levels, increasing the rate of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Before and after transport, coal is often stockpiled, releasing more coal dust. Exposure to fine particulates increases the risk of premature death, heart attacks and asthma attacks.


Coal also has an energy ‘deathprint’, it is the deadliest electricity source on the planet.

The burning of coal emits hazardous air pollutants that can spread for hundreds of kilometres. Pollutants include particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, mercury and arsenic.

Exposure to these pollutants can damage people’s health and emission of sulphates and nitrates also leads to acid rain, which damages streams, forests, crops and soils.


Coal plants consume vast amounts of water for cooling and steam production and generates waste contaminated with toxic chemicals and heavy metals, such as arsenic, cadmium, selenium, lead and mercury which if held in unlined waste ponds may leach into ground and surface water that people depend on for drinking.

Coal combustion is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and accounts for 72% of greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. This is warming our planet with devastating impacts on human health and the environment

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