A new study indicates that some pregnancies in four New Jersey counties East of a Pennsylvania coal-fired power plant “may” have been negatively affected by the plant’s emissions, reports Kathleen O’Brien for NJ.com (Pregnancies in 4 N.J. counties affected by pollution, study concludes). “While the health dangers of coal emissions have been long documented - asthma and cardiovascular problems - they now appear to extend to pregnancy as well,” O’Brien reports.
But how relevant to analyzing the health safety of coal is the study today? The study covered the period 1990 - 2006. The power plant, the Portland Generating Station in Upper Mount Bethel Township, was built in 1958, and would sometimes coat window sills with ash. The plant wasn’t retrofitted with the latest anti-pollution equipment, and the owner, GenOn Energy, decided the old plant wasn’t worth the cost of installing the new equipment that would have allowed it to reduce sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions to legally allowable limits (although the mercury limits may be overly strict because dangers of mercury emissions from man-made coal burning may have been wildly overstated for political reasons). So Portland stopped using coal in 2013, switching to natural gas and/or diesel fuel.
I left these comments, slightly edited:
All pollutants—real pollutants, not carbon dioxide—have thresholds below which they are not dangerous to humans. As long as economically viable technology exists to clean the emissions—and always keeping in mind the enormous and vital life-giving value of electricity—dangerous levels of pollutants should not be allowed to be released.
Reading back through the various links dating from 2012, 2013, and 2014, we find that the technology apparently exists. But the Portland Generating Station is an old mid-Twentieth Century facility. Retrofitting the 1958 plant with the latest state-of-the-art anti-pollution technology would not have been economically feasable, so the owners decided to shut it down.
Considering the big picture, it seems obvious to me that this study is obsolete as a means of judging the health dangers of modern coal-fired electricity generation. State-of-the-art coal plants are much cleaner today (albeit much less competitive to natural gas, thanks to fracking technology). I suspect the radical anti-coal faction knows this, which explains why it has switched to peddling the ridiculous myth that carbon dioxide, the trace greenhouse gas without which life on Earth could not exist, is a pollutant. This way, any human activity that emits CO2 can be labeled “carbon pollution,” which sounds bad but is actually beneficial to the plant life (including agriculture) that gives us oxygen.
The Truth About Coal and Mercury—Alex Epstein
How Coal Improves Our Environment—Alex Epstein