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Health crisis feared amid coal use

TWO thousand four hundred Filipinos could die yearly from coal plant emission, the Greenpeace Southeast Asia said on Wednesday.    

This was the first time the Greenpeace   has revealed the current and projected health impacts of existing coal-fired power plants   in the Philippines.   

The report “Coal: A Public Health Crisis, Diseases and Deaths Attributed to Coal Use in the Philippines”    showed an estimated 960 premature deaths each year due to stroke, ischemic heart disease, other cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory diseases.   

If   new power plants are to be made operational,    Greenpeace warned premature deaths may rise  to 2,410—more than double the current number of people dying from coal-related pollution in the Philippines.

Health crisis. Members of  Greenpeace  denounce the Philippine government for allowing the use of burning coal during a press conference in Manila on Wednesday Feb. 3 following the release of a research report warning of the public health impact of coal-powered plants.  DANNY PATA
Lauri Myllyvirta, Senior Global Coal Campaigner at Greenpeace International, said results of the research show that coal-fired power plants expose everyone in the Philippines to toxic pollution, resulting in hundreds of premature deaths every year.

Myllyvirta,   one of the authors of the research,  said leading    economies from the United States to China and Europe are already relying on modern, renewable energy sources for their additional power needs, showing that this is a real option for Philippines.

More than one-third of the energy used to generate electricity in the Philippines comes from burning coal.   

Currently, the country has 17 operational coal plants, with 29 more approved by the Department of Energy, set to begin commercial operations by 2020.

The report is based on research carried out at Harvard University on the impacts of emissions coming from coal-fired power plants on the air quality of selected countries in Asia.   

For the Philippine version, Greenpeace collaborated with Health Justice to write the report, with support from Health Care Without Harm—Asia and the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice.

Coal use harms the environment and public health at every stage of its life cycle. Coal-fired power plants emit sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NO2) and other gaseous pollutants in the air that can react chemically to form particulate matter that is 2.5 µm in diameter.   

Aside from generating particulate matter, coal combustion also affects health indirectly by contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change can bring about extreme heat, lead to natural disasters, and eventually increase diseases transmitted through insects such as malaria and dengue.   

The study evaluated 13 operational coal-fired power plants in the Philippines with a combined installed capacity of 3,799.10 megawatts (MW), as well as the potential impacts of plans to build 29 new coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of 11700MW, which could dramatically increase levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and PM2.5   emissions.   

“This pioneering study is an important addition to the growing body of health and scientific research on the adverse impacts of coal-fired power plants, not only to the environment, but to human health as well,” said Reuben Andrew Muni, Climate and Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines.   

“We strongly recommend for the DoE, the DoH and other policy-makers to read it and take heed as it presents a strong case on why the Philippines should end its dependence on coal-generated electricity now, not only for economic, environmental and climate change reasons, but on public health grounds as well.”

Muni said the   new study just confirms what we already know about the health effects of coal based on international evidence.

“ For the longest time, we have been ignoring the environmental case for the phase out of coal. I hope that this time, the public health argument will convince us that coal is not the way to go towards a clean, sustainable and healthy energy future,” said Dr. Renzo Guinto, Campaigner for the Healthy Energy Initiative, Health Care Without Harm-Asia.

   Guinto said new    coal plants are a lose-lose proposition for the public. Increasing dependence on coal will consign us to dirty air for 30 or more years, as coal gets more expensive and other countries abandon it as an energy source.

He said there    is a way out of this vicious cycle. We must embrace renewables through a strong, health-driven energy policy,” said Atty. Ipat Luna, a Trustee of HealthJustice-Philippines.

Topics: Health crisis , Greenpeace Southeast Asia , coal plant emission
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