Nurses for Safe Renewable Power

Looking for a healthy environment for everyone

“Coal is killing people”: a calculated myth

What we hear over and over is that Ontario’s coal-fired power plants are actually killing people—as many as 9,500 people a year, said the Ontario Medical Association more than a year ago. (They’re not using that figure now–it originated 20 years ago in a paper produced by a marketing committee at the OMA and has no basis in fact. But we digress.)

Here are the facts:

  • Ontario’s air quality has improved steadily over recent decades due to programs such as DriveSafe and others
  • Ontario’s existing air pollution comes from south of the border and from cars/trucks
  • There are multiple factors behind respiratory disease in Canada.
  • The main cause of premature death in Canada due to respiratory disease is direct and indirect exposure to cigarette smoke–22% according to Health Canada’s Respiratory Disease in Canada 2001 report.
  • Ontario halted its multi-billion-dollar coal plant clean-up program several years ago in favour of spending billions on renewables, mostly wind power
  • Wind power must be backed up by fossil-fuel power generation. In Ontario, that means natural gas (Auditor General Annual Report 2011, page 119)

In short, the whole “coal is killing people” campaign has been part of a calculated strategy by the wind and natural gas industries, and is not based on fact.

Here is an interesting graphic, prepared by Mr Bill Palmer, an engineer trained in risk and safety assessment. Note that there is no change in asthma rates, despite the changing sources of power.

Generation and Possible Health Effects[1]

Once again, we need to learn more and read more: what we’re being told isn’t necessarily the unvarnished truth.

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PS The Sierra Club recently confessed that it had accepted millions from a natural gas company to create a “dirty coal” campaign and promote natural gas as an alternate fuel source to coal.


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