While the negative health and environmental effects of mining and burning coal are well documented, simply transporting and storing coal can also adversely affect the health outcomes of individuals living near coal-fired power plants.
New research explores the health and environmental costs of coal storage and transportation, finding that increases in the level of coal stockpiles held by U.S. power plants increase local air pollution levels, which in turn increases the average infant and adult mortality rates in the communities near these plants.
The new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, "Handle with Care: The Local Air Pollution Costs of Coal Storage," was written by Akshaya Jha of Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College and Nicholas Muller of Middlebury College.
"Despite the thicket of environmental regulations relevant to coal, our paper uncovers an as yet unstudied dimension of coal use that we argue requires policy intervention -- the environmental consequences of the coal purchase and storage behavior of U.S. power plants," said Jha.
Jha and Muller utilized monthly, plant-level data on coal purchases and stockpiles provided by the Energy Information Administration as well as air quality data from the Environmental Protection Agency for the period of 2002 to 2012 to determine how coal stockpiles affect concentration of fine particulates (PM2.5) within 25 miles of coal plants. They assessed how increases in PM2.5 affect mortality rates by studying mortality data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Using these data, they estimated that a 10 percent increase in coal stockpiles led to a 0.07 percent increase in air pollution for communities up to 25 miles away from coal plants.
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