Coal is one of the most destructive and hazardous fossil fuels on Earth. Its life cycle is filled with negative environmental impacts, and unless it is replaced by cleaner energy sources, these effects will only worsen.
Open-pit coal mining destroys forests, wetlands, and other natural ecosystems while leading to widespread degradation of land and water quality. Furthermore, coal mining has been known to have detrimental impacts on wildlife – sometimes leading to the extinction of species.
Mining operations generate high levels of noise pollution that can have detrimental effects on human health and well-being. Studies have demonstrated that loud noise causes sleep disorders, poor cognitive performance, hearing loss, and a decline in personal health.
Coal processing plants often employ chemicals to clean and prepare the coal for burning, which can have hazardous effects on both humans and animals. Some of these chemicals have been known to cause cancer or other serious health issues in both humans and animals.
Acid Mine Drainage
Many coal mining areas experience acidic runoff from their stockpiles and handling facilities, which pollutes local water supplies and alters the pH balance of nearby waterways. This can contaminate groundwater or surface water supplies, making it unsafe for people as well as wildlife.
During the coal combustion process, sulfur gas is released into the air and causes air pollution. Sulfur can be hazardous to people and the environment alike; it has been known to cause serious health problems like bronchitis or asthma.
Coal is a source of radioactivity, such as radium and uranium. These elements, when burned in coal power plants can contaminate air and water with high levels of radioactive waste.
Burning coal for electricity generation emits a high number of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and may help cause the melting of the ozone layer. As such, coal mining has one of the most serious and widespread environmental consequences.
Mining coal is a major contributor to the problem of heavy metals in the environment. Metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic can pose health risks to both humans and animals alike.
In addition to releasing toxic gases, coal burning also emits significant amounts of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides. These pollutants have a detrimental effect on human health, affecting lung function, heart disease, respiratory diseases, and cancer.
Other hazardous pollutants released by coal burning include mercury, lead, and radon. These can cause serious health issues like asthma or breathing difficulties, brain damage, heart issues, or even death.
Fortunately, there are clean energy solutions that can help mitigate the environmental damage caused by coal mining. The US government and private sector are working together on improved processes that make coal mining and power production more efficient, thus decreasing harmful pollutants and contributing to climate change mitigation measures.