From mines to trains to coal-fired power plants, coal threatens the health of our communities and families. More than twenty Montana physicians and health practitioners have called for a comprehensive study of the health impacts of coal export proposals in Montana, so we can have the information we need to protect our communities. In the op-ed piece below, Dr. Georgia Milan of Missoula, MT discusses the very real health threats posed by the coal industry:
“End denial about damage coal does to our health”
After practicing family medicine for 30 years, I had to step back from my clinical practice in order to better serve patients and our community. It became clear to me that we need to address the true causes of our diseases. One of the most dangerous threats to current and future generations is our use of coal – a critical and immediate issue for Montanans.
When smoking was identified as dangerous, physicians challenged the tobacco industry and demanded disclosure of harmful health effects. Now we need to apply the same standards to our use of coal.
Plant life was fossilized into coal over 300 million years ago, and today Montana sits on some of the largest coal deposits in North America. The Otter Creek Coal Tracts in southeast Montana alone contain 1.3 billion tons of coal.
Burning coal releases billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, coal plants are the nation’s top source of carbon emissions, and the primary cause of climate change responsible for heat related deaths, natural disasters, infectious diseases, and threatening food and water supplies world wide. Montana’s Colstrip Power Plant is the 8th largest greenhouse gas emitter in the U.S. according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Coal plants are also responsible for 40 percent of all hazardous air pollutants (American Lung Association). These emissions contribute to 4 out of 5 of the leading causes of death – heart disease, cancer, stroke and respiratory diseases. Recent studies are showing correlation with autoimmune diseases and even chronic neurologic diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons.
More than half of human caused mercury is from coal (EPA). This is a toxic heavy metal which causes brain damage and heart disease. In the U.S. an estimated half million children have mercury levels high enough to impair intellectual development. Montana has more than 50 bodies of water with warnings for women and children to avoid too much fish consumption due to mercury. Coal mining also releases many other toxins including lead and arsenic.
Every aspect of coal usage from the mining, burning to waste is damaging to human health….