Coal Mining Effects
There are a number of adverse environmental effects of coal mining and burning, specially in power stations including:
- Generation of hundreds of millions of tons of waste products, including fly ash, bottom ash, flue gas desulfurization sludge, that contain mercury, uranium, thorium, arsenic, and other heavy metals.
- Acid rain from high sulfur coal.
- Interference with groundwater and water table levels.
- Contamination of land and waterways and destruction of homes from fly ash spills such as Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill.
- Impact of water use on flows of rivers and consequential impact on other land-uses.
- Dust nuisance.
- Subsidence above tunnels, sometimes damaging infrastructure.
- Coal-fired power plants without effective fly ash capture are one of the largest sources of human-caused background radiation exposure.
- Coal-fired power plants shorten nearly 24,000 lives a year in the United States, including 2,800 from lung cancer.
- Coal-fired power plants emit mercury, selenium, and arsenic which are harmful to human health and the environment.
- Release of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, which causes climate change and global warming according to the IPCC and the EPA. Coal is the largest contributor to the human-made increase of CO2 in the air.
There are hundreds of coal fires burning around the world. Those burning underground can be difficult to locate and many cannot be extinguished. Fires can cause the ground above to subside, their combustion gases are dangerous to life, and breaking out to the surface can initiate surface wildfires.
Coal seams can be set on fire by spontaneous combustion or contact with a mine fire or surface fire. A grass fire in a coal area can set dozens of coal seams on fire. Coal fires in China burn 109 million tons of coal a year, emitting 360 million metric tons of CO2. This contradicts the ratio of 1:1.83 given earlier, but it amounts to 2-3% of the annual worldwide production of CO2 from fossil fuels, or as much as emitted from all of the cars and light trucks in the United States.
At Kuh i Malik in Yagnob Valley, Tajikistan, coal deposits have been burning for thousands of years, creating vast underground labyrinths full of unique minerals, some of them very beautiful. Local people once used this method to mine ammoniac. This place has been well-known since the time of Herodotus, but European geographers misinterpreted the Ancient Greek descriptions as the evidence of active volcanism in Turkestan (up to the 19th century, when the Russian army invaded the area).
The reddish siltstone rock that caps many ridges and buttes in the Powder River Basin (Wyoming), and in western North Dakota is called porcelanite, which also may resemble the coal burning waste “clinker” or volcanic “scoria”. Clinker is rock that has been fused by the natural burning of coal. In the Powder River Basin approximately 27 to 54 billion tons of coal burned within the past three million years. Wild coal fires in the area were reported by the Lewis and Clark Expedition as well as explorers and settlers in the area.
塞 翁 失 马 [sài wēng shī mǎ]
Certain bad luck is actually “a blessing in disguise”.
Lit: The squire at the frontier lost his horse. (The horse eventually came back bringing some other horses with it.)