Coal (fuel source)

What are the environmental impacts of coal?


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Release of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide: Burning coal releases long held CO2 which has been hidden underground for millions of years. This disrupts the carbon cycle and is causing global warming.

Air pollution: Burning coal causes smog, soot, acid rain, and toxic air emissions.

Wastes generated: Ash, sludge, toxic chemicals, and waste heat create more environmental problems.

Fuel supply: Mining, transporting, and storing coal levels mountains and pollutes the land, water, and air.

Water use: Coal plants need billions of gallons of cooling water and harm wildlife.


Coal pollutes when it is mined, transported to the power plant, stored, and burned.


Coal is a fossil fuel. Combustion (burning) combines coal carbon with atmospheric oxygen, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations from 280 ppm prior to the industrial revolution to 400 ppm today, and we will exceed 500 ppm before 2050 at current rates.


Coal companies decapitate mountains, bulldozing trees and killing

animals, destroying watersheds and polluting streams.

Coal companies create acid rain, as sulphur compounds are created.

Acid rain kills trees.

Coal mining results in the deaths of miners, from black lung disease in the early days to cave ins and asphyxiation today.


Coal affects the environment at many stages of its use, both mining and consumption. Most coal companies and coal users have implemented steps to reduce potential environmental harm.


A summary of the problems which may be caused at each stage are as follows:

Coal Mining:

The removal of coal from the ground either by mining, open pit mining or strip mining has several problems. These are related in all types of mining to the removal of the existing ecosystems to access the coal, the pumping of acidic mine waters into local watercourses, and the disposal of scrap rock.

Coal Fired Equipment

Aside from the obvious emission of SOx and NOx which create acid rain problems, the emission of carbon dioxide which impacts global warming, and the emission of particulates to the air which cause soiling problems, coal burning emits radiation to the air from Uranium contained in the coal, thermally and chemically pollutes the waters used for plant cooling, and creates disposal problems with fly and bottom ash, water softener solids and air scrubber solids.


Coal is bad because:
  • it is non renewable fuel
  • its burning emits carbon dioxide gas which causes global warming
  • its burning releases many harmful sulphuric gases which are a cause of acid rain
  • carbonic acid from coal consumption increases ocean acidification
  • its burning causes diseases related to respiration.


It can pollute rivers, lakes, and drinking water


Coal is a cheap source of energy but is bad for the earth. Coal mines must be

dug deeper and deeper, tearing the land and destroying soil. Coal burning

releases poisons in the air which cause acid rain and harm EVERYTHING living on earth.