EDMONTON — The health impact costs associated with burning coal for electricity in Alberta are close to $300 million annually according to a new report released today by a coalition of Canadian health and environmental groups.
Coal plants are a major source of toxic air contaminants, including mercury, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, and particulate matter. The study shows that in Alberta each year this pollution contributes to over 4,000 asthma episodes, over 700 emergency visits for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and around 80 hospital admissions, with chronic exposures resulting in nearly 100 premature deaths.
“Doctors agree that coal is a health hazard from start to finish,” says Farrah Khan with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “Coal-fired power plants put Albertans’ health at risk, especially the health of our children.”
“Pollution from coal power contributes to thousands of asthma episodes every year,” says Dr. Robert Oliphant, President and CEO of the Asthma Society of Canada. “On average in Alberta, a child visits an emergency department for asthma every 34 minutes, with pollution from coal power being a major contributor to these episodes.”
Recent polling suggests that only one in three Albertans know the majority of their electricity comes from coal. Though coal is generally seen as a cheap source of electricity, this analysis reveals that the health and social costs of coal pollution add at least 3.6 to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, nearly doubling the cost of electricity production.
“Air pollution from coal is linked to respiratory conditions – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, lung cancer, and pneumonia,” says Beth Nanni, Environmental Program Specialist with The Lung Association, Alberta & Northwest Territories. ”We urge the Alberta government to transition away from coal power and towards renewable energy as soon as possible.”
Alberta burns more coal than the rest of Canada combined, accounting for almost two-thirds of the electricity sold on Alberta’s market, releasing almost as much greenhouse gas emissions as all of the oilsands. According to the analysis, climate change impacts from coal-fired power range from $1.1 to 4.5 billion annually.
“Alberta has no shortage of viable renewable and low-carbon alternatives,” says Tim Weis, Director of Renewable Energy and Efficiency Policy with the Pembina Institute. “Currently these cleaner options are not competing on a level playing field because our market does not make polluters pay for the health and environmental costs.”
Current federal greenhouse gas regulations will eventually phase out coal plants, but not until they have been allowed to operate unmitigated for up to 50 years. The groups are urging Alberta to adopt a provincial renewable energy policy and to phase out existing coal plants faster than federal regulations require.
Representatives from each organization will be attending a press conference for the launch of the report in Edmonton today. For details, please see the media advisory.
The report — A Costly Diagnosis: Subsidizing coal power with Albertans’ health — is the first of its kind to assess the health and environmental costs of coal-fired electricity in Alberta. It was co-authored by the Asthma Society of Canada, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, The Lung Association, Alberta & the Northwest Territories, and the Pembina Institute.
Program Specialist, Environment, The Lung Association, Alberta & Northwest Territories
780-488-6995 Ext: 2252
Director of Communications and Government Relations, Asthma Society of Canada
416-787-4050 Ext: 100