The Silent Epidemic: Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health

Overview

We will not find "exposure to burning coal" listed as the cause of death on a single death certificate, but tens of thousands of deaths from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and other illnesses are clearly linked to coal-derived pollution. As politicians and advertising campaigns extol the virtues of "clean coal," the dirty secret is that coal kills. In The Silent Epidemic, Alan Lockwood, a physician, describes and documents the adverse health effects of burning ...

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Overview

We will not find "exposure to burning coal" listed as the cause of death on a single death certificate, but tens of thousands of deaths from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and other illnesses are clearly linked to coal-derived pollution. As politicians and advertising campaigns extol the virtues of "clean coal," the dirty secret is that coal kills. In The Silent Epidemic, Alan Lockwood, a physician, describes and documents the adverse health effects of burning coal. Lockwood's comprehensive treatment examines every aspect of coal, from its complex chemical makeup to details of mining, transporting, burning, and disposal—each of which generates significant health concerns. He describes coal pollution's effects on the respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems, and how these problems will only get worse; explains the impact of global warming on coal-related health problems; and discusses possible policy approaches to combat coal pollution. Coal fueled the industrial revolution and has become a major source of energy in virtually every country. In the United States, almost half of the energy used to generate electricity comes from burning coal. Relatively few people are aware of the health threats posed by coal-derived pollutants, and those who are aware lack the political clout of the coal industry. Lockwood's straightforward description of coal as a health hazard is especially timely, given the barrage of marketing efforts to promote coal as part of "energy independence." His message is clear and urgent: "Coal-fired plants make people sick and die, particularly children and those with chronic illnesses, and they cost society huge amounts of money desperately needed for other purposes."

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Lockwood (neurology & nuclear medicine, emeritus, SUNY Buffalo) contends that coal-derived pollutants are causing significant disease and death in the United States. About half of the nation's electricity is generated by 600 coal-fired power plants, which burn a billion tons of coal each year. Lockwood discusses some of the hazardous substances these plants release, in spite of pollution-control equipment, and their effects on public health. While coal is called an affordable resource, Lockwood points out that each plant averages $156 million per year in calculated damages. He states that coal mining and burning also play a part in climate change. Carbon dioxide capture and storage could help, he believes, but the industry has not even begun to implement that complex technology. Lockwood, who was the lead author of a 2009 white paper, "Coal's Assault on Human Health," fills the book with references to many other scientific studies and government reports. VERDICT This book is an urgent call for Americans to support a rapid shift to cleaner electric power sources. The evidence provided should be of vital interest to everyone who uses electricity.—David Conn, formerly with Surrey Libs., BC
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262017893
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 8/31/2012
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 1,414,636
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.06 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan H. Lockwood, M.D., is Emeritus Professor of Neurology and Nuclear Medicine at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is the lead author of a Physicians for Social Responsibility report on coal's adverse health effects.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments ix

1 Introduction 1

2 Coal 9

3 The Pollutants 17

4 From Mine to Ash 47

5 Mitigation of Pollutants from Burning Coal 67

6 Pathophysiology: How Pollution Damages Cells and Tissues 85

7 Basic Health Considerations 99

8 Diseases of the Respiratory System 111

9 Diseases of the Cardiovascular System 131

10 Diseases of the Nervous System 141

11 Health Effects on the Horizon 155

12 Coal, Global Warming, and Health 165

13 Energy and Health Care Economics 193

14 Policy Implications 207

Glossary 221

Index 225

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