Claim: Lowering coal-fired power plant emissions may have saved 1,700 lives in 1 year

From the American Chemical Society, some uncertainty, but good enough for a press release. Of course if they could show us an absence of death certificates that say “died from PM2.5 complications” that might be close to some science. But, as it stands, this is pure speculation, indicated by the “may” they put in the headline. – Anthony

Coal fired power plant in Martinsvill, IN to be closed - replaced by one from "fracked" natural gas.

Coal fired power plant in Martinsville, IN to be closed – replaced by one from “fracked” natural gas.

After scoring a Supreme Court victory this spring, the Environmental Protection Agency can move forward with its strategy to cut air pollution from coal-fired power plants in several states — and new research suggests the impact could be lifesaving. Scientists assessed the effects of one state’s prescient restrictions on plant emissions in a report in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology. They estimated that the state’s legislation prevented about 1,700 premature deaths in 2012.

Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson and Ya-Ru Li explain that the U.S. has been working for years to lower levels of particulate matter, a form of air pollution that can cause serious health problems when people breathe it in. Certain kinds of particulate matter form mainly from power plant emissions. More than 10 years ago, correctly anticipating the federal government would eventually set tighter restrictions on power plants, North Carolina had approved more stringent goals than neighboring states. It required 14 major coal-fired plants within its borders to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides by 60 percent and 72 percent, respectively, over a 10-year period. Gibson’s team wanted to see what effect the measures were having.

They found that the policy had successfully reduced emissions in North Carolina more than other southeastern states. Sulfur dioxide levels, for example, dropped an average of 20 percent a year from 2002 to 2012. Across all southeastern states, they dropped 13.6 percent per year. As a result of the improved air in North Carolina, the scientists used a health impact model to estimate that about 1,700 lives were saved in 2012 alone.


The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 161,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.


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“It required 14 major coal-fired plants within its borders to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides by 60 percent and 72 percent, respectively, over a 10-year period.”
” Sulfur dioxide levels, for example, dropped an average of 20 percent a year from 2002 to 2012. Across all southeastern states, they dropped 13.6 percent per year. ”
Nary a word about CO2, you know, the “other pollutant”.

Ian W

Nor was there any mention of particulates PM10s etc. Then the model will have worked on a linear projection with no validation. So obviously it must be true.


… health impact model to estimate …… .
Is ANYTHING done without models ANYWHERE these days?

If you can’t measure data or don’t like what you can measure, you can “produce” data with models. 1700 deaths over 10 years averages only 170 deaths per year. That is a small fraction of all the lung desease related deaths in North Carolina. How did they determine that fraction to put into their models and is that fraction really some where between 0 and 5%? I’m sure that a lot of any reduction in lung related deaths is a result of fewer people smoking.


“…about 1,700 lives were saved in 2012 alone.”
The lives supposedly saved were in 2012 not over 10 years.


I wonder whether they built improved life saving drugs and generally improved healthcare into their models.


Oldseadog – I have a model that can answer your question. Let me go rustle up some input and get back to ya.


Meh… I’m all for switching from coal to natural gas as our primary fuel source for electricity production. It’s just as reliable, even more plentiful, and doesn’t present nearly the same hazard level for the people involved in its collection and distribution.

Robert of Ottawa

Coal is good and plentiful.

Janice The American Elder

Coal has an advantage over natural gas. Coal can be stockpiled at the point-of-use. Natural gas is produced as-needed from gas wells. Many coal-burning plants have enough coal on-hand to last them for three weeks, in case supply lines are interrupted. The only way to do that with natural gas is by condensing it, using cryogenics, and that increases the cost of the natural gas quite a bit.


“……a health impact model…….”
so 1700 isn’t fact-based, estimated, guestimated or based on any form of attributable evidence-based science. Outputs from models are not data.

Robert of Ottawa

ALeajactaest, apparently Caesar said “the die is cast” as he crossed the Rubicon in Greek, something like Ο κύβος ερρίφθη – O kuboc errison – any ancient Greeks here?

Yep the greek = The die is cast.

Average U.S air (i.e., with coal plant emissions) exposes a breather to about 10 micrograms of PM2.5 per hour. A smoker may inhale up to 40,000 micrograms of PM2.5 from a single cigarette in 5 minutes — and there is no report of anyone suddenly dying after smoking a single cigarette. A smoker of a marijuana cigarette may inhale as much as 180,000 micrograms of PM2.5, also without any report of sudden death. Hookah bar exposure to smoke can be equivalent to as much as 100 cigarettes — and there are no reports of bodies at or near hookah bars. PM2.5 does not kill anyone.

Billy Liar

Even if PM2.5 particles do kill people, they can cross the Atlantic so local reductions may be overwhelmed by sources from more or less anywhere in the world.
Characterization of African Dust (PM2.5) across the Atlantic Ocean during AEROSE 2004

Robert of Ottawa

Habeus Corpus!

Marlo Lewis

Powerful numbers! Please provide links.


Lowering coal-fired power plant emissions may have saved 1,700 lives in 1 year

Where is the slightest evidence? That kind of claim is unmitigated nonsense.

The evidence is presented in the paper


I would have thought that is PM2.5 killed people then sailors on the flight decks of carriers with all the jet exhaust should have been dropping like flies.


By the power of Peer Review™ it is transformed into fundamental truth!

If you are going to make claims about “lives saved” you have to be more specific than that. The proper metric is “number of life YEARS saved,” which is a completely different than the one chosen. I have no doubt whatsoever that the lives being saved here are primarily the lives of elderly folks, and therefore “lives saved” is not as impressive as one might be led to believe.

Bernie McCune

The rural western US basically meets most of the EPA air quality standards except for PM10 and PM2.5. And most of the time places such as where I live in Las Cruces, NM where there are no coal fired plants anywhere near us fail to meet PM standards due wind borne sand during our seasonal wind storms. I am sure it gives EPA fits.
I suspect in the winter when all kinds of stuff (including old tires) is being burned across the border south of here in Juarez Mexico to keep warm, the EPA is also going crazy trying to nit pick El Paso air quality to make up for stuff drifting across the international border. One day they will have to admit that there are some things that are totally out of their control. Not until they drive the rest of us crazy from their own insanity.
Most of fish borne mercury out here is originally in the soil and rocks. No one wants to admit that heavy loads of mercury basically leach from the ground into rivers and lakes with very small additions from air borne Hg. EPA and their minions want us to believe that it is all from coal. This is less and less likely as coal plants go into the final stages of cleaning up their acts. And especially when there was very little Hg from the air to begin with.
Oh all of us here in Las Cruces should be dying like flies according to EPA PM studies. The older ones among us seem to be getting close to that model but somehow I have no faith in anything EPA does when it involves air quality health risk modeling.


And where and when can one have any faith in the EPA when it comes to ANYTHING.
It is no longer an organization that is concerned with science except as a political tool to further a political agenda.

Col Mosby September 3, 2014 at 8:34 am
“…the lives being saved here are primarily the lives of elderly folks….”
Hey, what do you have against old folks?
OTOH, how many lives (elderly again?) will be lost due to brown outs during peak power demand periods in hot CAGW summers or the depth of winter?

Joe Public

Forget Brown outs. How many elderly, less well-off folks lost their lives because of inability to pay for heating/cooling power bills due to elevated cost of power subsidies for renewables? More than 1,700.

Robert of Ottawa

For the foreseeable future, we will all get sick and die. There is no saving of lives, simply extending them. Now, I envy those born in 10,000 years time.


I just looked at the paper and the data behind it. I figured why not, I do research for a living and live in NC. PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations are down 50% or so almost across the board in NC. It’s hard to extrapolate what the health effects are at the low end of the curve, but they did their best and cite the papers they used to define their criteria. It’s a ‘model’ yes, but the math here is rather simple, and asthmatics and CVD patients suffer on ‘bad air days’ that most of us would never notice. It’s certainly diminishing returns the lower you go, but I’d rather they curtail real pollutants than CO2. Don’t snark at them without real cause.

Matt Bergin

First they have to prove that there are any heath effects from PM2.5. Wasn’t there a recent article where it was found that there were more people affected with asthma from clean environments?

The major bad air days for asthmatics are hot and humid ones. My neighbor has asthma and he suffers on those days. I don’t have asthma, but I have COPD which has some similar features to asthma. And I suffer on hot and humid days. One of my doctors has asthma and he keeps the windows closed in his office and the AC on. In fact all three of us retreat to our Air Conditioned spaces. What none of us need are unaffordable electrical rates. This may be especially true for COPD patients who are on disability and therefore rely on Medicare without a supplemental.
No offense intended towards anyone but I get extremely resentful of rent seeking organizations implying that these kinds of regulations will actually help people with lung conditions. They won’t. If it takes away their affordable electricity it will severely harm them.


This is a real reason why I think we need to keep pushing for reducing pollution. And for people to say burning carbon fuels will cause catastrophic consequences due to global warming by 2100 I think only detracts from the world seriously trying to reduce pollution. The global warming fear mongering is so transparent to anyone who looks at scientific data that the tendency is for people and governments to conclude that pollution is not a problem and lessen the pressure to cut pollution. We also have to sensitive to what forced regulations do to our economy, they will drive up energy costs, so they have to implemented in a reasonable manner, focusing on reducing pollutants like sulfer dioxide and not on greenhouse gases.

Billy Liar

The air is full of particles, from pollen down to wind-borne dust: none of these will ever be removed. Perhaps you’d like to volunteer to live in a plastic tent fitted with a particulate filter for the rest of your life in order to check whether PM2.5 particles really do kill. Alternatively, you could just enjoy life and be careful crossing the street.

Leon Brozyna
Joe Public

Thanks for flagging that apposite cartoon.

I agree with MattE. There is a simple case for particulate cancer deaths and other deaths. It doesn’t take models with 65 assumed parameters, all of them unproved, with iterations of calculations over 100 years and millions of slices of the earths atmosphere that cannot possibly be accurate. The particulates lodge in the lungs and irritate producing inflammation and damage that over time causes cancer. This is how cancer works. It’s been documented in double blind studies in dozens of types of cancers.

Matt Bergin

Your lungs also contain Celia to remove those particles. The nicotine in cigarettes deadens the Celia and they stop moving leaving the smoke particles stuck in the lungs.

The Iceman Cometh

I’ve been trying to call Celia for days, and now you tell me she’s in my lungs? I could have saved my breath?

Glenn Beachy

“Prevented Premature Deaths” is the key term. Very nebulous… A statistical projection that terminally Ill people lived a bit longer than they would have otherwise. No lives “saved” or reductions in actual deaths necessary.

more soylent green!

Can we name any of those people?
Have you ever wondered how the air in the USA is cleaner than it’s ever been in our lifetimes yet apparently we’re dropping like flies from air pollution? That’s the implication here — air pollution is killing us but a few simple, no-cost solutions will save thousands of lives per year.
Have you also wondered how our air is cleaner but diseases like asthma are more common? Maybe the American Chemical Society or the EPA can model that?

The visible part of smog is not ozone or particulate. It is sulfuric acid aerosols with diameters of about a half micron. I think this is what is causing asthma attacks: not the two criteria pollutants that EPA can “regulate” with standards. Some of that acid aerosol results from scrubbing out particulate at coal fired power plants. So, apparently EPA thinks they will solve that problem by regulating coal burning out of business with a CO2 emission standard. Just the threat seems to be working. Duke Energy is replacing it’s old coal fired plants with ash storage lagoons with natural gas plants. This week they announced plans for a pipeline to bring natural gas from PA and WV. Problem solved. No longer need to regulate, just pay unemployment to coal minors and coal train operators.

Svend Ferdinandsen

With ~10mill inhabitants you will have 100,000 deaths a year, 1700 is not a big deal. Changes in health care would have a much larger impact. By the way gives barbecue very high levels om PM.

If we turn off all powerplants that run on coal, imagine how many that will kill, 1000’s? Millions?


I might have safed hundreds of lifes since my filter-less Ford Escort Turbo Diesel rusted away.
Then again, I sold it to a Russian because they repair the rusted beams over there so they might be dying over there now.
Does that qualify me for some NATO medal?


Prepare to be invaded by Putin.


If it helps against the EU Kommissars, I’m intrigued.

Bruce Friesen

There is considerable, high-quality, epidemiological work that provides strong evidence that more people die during periods of high particulates levels in the air. Researchers look for, and find, correlation between number of deaths per day, and particulate levels. More people die on those days.
In fact, I have seen data that shows more people die during those weeks, during weeks with one or two high particulate days.
What I have never seen is data that shows more people die during a month with high particulate days, when all other factors are controlled for.
In other words, I have seen data that shows there are person-weeks lost to elevated levels of PM2.5. I have never seen, and I have kept my eyes open, data that shows person-months are lost to PM2.5, let alone person-years.
A serious request, because I am always prepared to learn and to change my understanding. If any reader of this blog can point me to a study that demonstrates deaths of highly compromised individuals advanced by more than a few days, I would definitely have a look at that evidence.

Billy Liar

From your link:
The REVIHAAP [Review of evidence on health aspects of air pollution] report concluded that there is currently no threshold level (i.e. no safe level) for PM10, PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ground-level ozone (O3) and that the concentration-response functions are mostly linear.
In effect everyone dies from these particulates and gases.

Bruce Friesen

Thanks. Since it was a serious request, I was somewhat relieved to see a publication date of March 2014, and the statement “Few studies on long-term exposure to air pollution and mortality have been reported from Europe.”
I will read it.


So are they really saying that chaninging concentration of PM2.5 has NO effect on mortality rates but any PM2.5 has a relative risk of 1.07. Really low risk that doesn’t change with dose?
The total study population consisted of 367 251 participants who contributed 5 118 039 person-years at risk (average follow-up 13·9 years), of whom 29 076 died from a natural cause during follow-up. A significantly increased hazard ratio (HR) for PM2·5 of 1·07 (95% CI 1·02—1·13) per 5 μg/m3 was recorded. No heterogeneity was noted between individual cohort effect estimates (I2 p value=0·95). HRs for PM2·5 remained significantly raised even when we included only participants exposed to pollutant concentrations lower than the European annual mean limit value of 25 μg/m3 (HR 1·06, 95% CI 1·00—1·12) or below 20 μg/m3 (1·07, 1·01—1·13).”


Reduced “planning” would have saved 2 million lives in 1 year, every year, in America alone. I don’t think that global cooling/warming/change advocates and activists, who exhibit a large correlation with “planners”/”choicers”, are completely honest about their motives.


Much more important than carbon, oxides and particulate capture is emotion capture.


“Blackout alert: Offices and factories to undergo 1970s-style electricity rationing this winter to stop households being plunged into darkness”
1700, That could easily be reversed in the UKs coming winter.


Correction…no one, I repeat no one, not even the most qualified Medical Doctor can save a life!
At best, the only thing a qualified ‘body mechanic’ can do is “Postpone Death.”

“Of course if they could show us an absence of death certificates that say “died from PM2.5 complications” that might be close to some science. But, as it stands, this is pure speculation, indicated by the “may” they put in the headline.”
The reason is simple. PM2.5 describes the SIZE of the particle, not the mechanism by which life is shortened.
The largest controlled study of death by coal happened in China, where the government gave away free coal in one area while banning it in another area. for decades.
This allows one to study life expectancy in each area. What we can say is that living in an area with high levels of PM2.5 can shorten your life. Now of course it could be unicorns that caused this, or flouride in the water, or voodoo. But you would have to show that.
Well we have a correlation, no doubting that, the question is the casual chain.
1. PM2.5 will get deep in your lungs and remain resident.
2. The size of the particle will allow the chemicals it is made up of to leach into the blood stream.
you can measure that.
3. Not all Pm2.5 is created equal. PM2.5 just refers to the size. So, a PM25 particle could be harmless
Or it could be toxic. Typically the culprit here is heavy metals, think lead.
so there is no “disease” you can point to specifically and given the nature of the problem you will
probably never be able to say “PM25 with the heavy metal lead, killed this person” But, if you
have a choice between living in an area filled with PM25 ( some safe, some toxic) and living in an area with little PM25. chance are your skepticism will fall away and you’ll think with common sense.
1. PM25 gets deep in your lungs. fact
2. PM25 can leech into your bloodstream. fact
3. PM25 can be composed of heavy metals and toxic compounds. fact
4. In a controlled large scale “study” folks who lived in PM25 polluted areas died earlier
than those who didnt.
Hmm the number might be 1700, it might be 10, it might be 3000. But one thing is for sure.
Given a choice, you would choose clean air. So would I. Given that you dont own my air, I’d object
to you putting crap in it. I dont need proof to object to pollution. You need to prove its safe.

Matt Bergin

Wrong in order for PM2.5 to be considered pollution you need to prove that it does something negative otherwise it is not pollution its just fine dust. By the way you don’t own the air either.

The largest controlled study of death by coal happened in China, where the government gave away free coal in one area while banning it in another area. for decades.

Got link?

Now go do your homework
REPLY: You always say “show your work” so how about showing it to support your claims rather than demanding everyone else do it, or is that too much work on a phone? – Anthony

If you are unfamiliar with the basic literature which I’ve pointed to before here at wuwt then it’s clear you have no business commenting.
I’ve linked to it before. Here.
You didn’t read it then.
Now dafs.
Do what I did
Takes 10 seconds

In all due respect the whole argument here may be academic. I think people may be very surprised to find out that the air quality in the enclosed rooms within their places of residence is significantly inferior to outdoor air quality. Yet we can all agree that if the temperature’s below zero outside we’ll retreat to those rooms in a heartbeat. And, if it’s hot and muggy outside the less robust among us (and, most of all, those with lung conditions) will retreat to those rooms as well – if they’re air conditioned. And we’ll be better of for it.

If fine particulate matter really is a problem, then why the hell does the FDA still allow “baby powder”? Do we want fine mineral dusts embedding in developing lungs? Why do they allow all sorts of body powders and makeup powders that are sucked in by so many who are not wearing appropriate OSHA-certified breathing apparatus?
Do you know how long you would have to ventilate a room with outside air after powdering just one baby’s bottom to reduce the fine particulate concentrations to what the EPA thinks should be the maximum acceptable levels from power plants? If it’s a bad day for pollen outside, is it even possible?

It’s pm25. Think small particles of lead or arsenic.
But if you think it’s not an issue go live in China.

Robert of Ottawa

But China has more severe pollution problems. This issue is not the lowest apple for them, rather like the smog in London during the 1950’s, when you could actually count the bodies.. By the time you are grasping for this level, you are already above the trees.

Robert of Ottawa

to improve on the metaphore …
But China has more severe pollution problems. This issue is not the lowest apple for them, rather like the smog in London during the 1950’s, when you could actually count the bodies.. By the time you are grasping for this level, you are already out of the orchard.

Given a choice of living in one area with high
Pm2.5 high counts of particles of lead mercury and arsenic that Lodge in your lungs and the exact same
Place without pm2.5
Which would you choose.

Mark Luhman

Steve People chose PM2.5 exposer ever day they are called smokers it takes from twenty to forty years to die from smoking and it a choice smokes make every day. For a non smoker even with second hand smoke to take in the same level of PM2.5 he would have to live 40 thousand years to get to same level of PM2.5 that a smoker take in in five years, yet five years of smoking has no measureable effect on the human body. Second a smoker who give up smoking with in a year will have the same chance to live just as long as a nonsmoker. These are no wild claims these are fact that have come out of smoke studies which the EPA and you chose to ignore. Also if lead is such a problem on God green earth is I survive my childhood, let alone any one from 1920 on, good God they put in gasoline and proceed to spew it across the country for over forty years. The funny part of that was the uptick in lung cancer deaths after World War II peaking in the late 80s or early 90s it had to do with the military distributing cigarettes to a large part of our population during WWII, It did not follow lead gasoline usage or follow how many miles you drove with leaded gas, It did follow how long you smoked.
As far as asthma or lung problem go it not the PM2.5 being it what those PM2.5 particles are. It is not a problem of small particles being an irritants it is that some of the small particles are irritants. Some are smaller and some are larger. This, I am an asthmatic with sever allergies, I do not go out on wind day. there is just to much mold and pollen in it. As far as my asthma concerned it is the humidity that affect it the most, again probably mold spores, that trigger a immune response causing inflammation.
As to lung cancer do not lecture me on the danger of lung cancer I seen it kill a parent, my wife also had it fortunately she survived, in both cases were small cell lung cancer the kind that smokers get. My father two pack a day Camel habit killed him. My wife never smoke and lived in rural America all her live hundreds of miles from coal fired plants in one of the states with the lowest air pollution of any yet she lost the genetic lottery and got the cancer.
PM2.5 is pure unadulterated BS and people who believe in that BS is cost me money and killing people needlessly since the use of coal to generate power has ushered in some of the healthiest living the human race has know. Perhaps you want to retreat to a smoke filled teepee see how that will improve you life. I assure you the cold and the wet will kill you faster that the PM2.5, and the smoke will have lots of PM2.5 in it.
If it is as big as a problem as you and the EPA maintains the human race would have went extinct not long after we picked up the first glowing ember and made a camp fire out of it. The reality is the benefits far out weigh the cost, the problem most people today are far to stupid to see that. Fire and coal save far more live with them than without, ditto for most dust making activities.


I think it would be appropriate here to link to WM Briggs’ analyses (takedowns?) of some of the most widely cited studies that purport to show health harms from PM2.5.

How disappointing–just another airy fairy model. Maybe somebody will do the real research–get mortality statistics by county from 10 years prior to the change until the present, and for neighboring states that made no change. By looking at the slopes of life expectancy changes, close to/ far from power plants in all these states, it would be possible to gather real evidence on the effect of this law on mortality.

Robert of Ottawa

Steve Malloy, at always says in response to these sorts of studies “Show us the bodies”.
An epidemilogical Habeus Corpus

Robert of Ottawa

For those interested in epidemiology, I would suggest the following and one of Brignall’s books He’s a math guy and shreds this kind of junk science. And well written.

And the number of people who got pneumonia and died because they couldn’t pay their heating bill is what?
Less than 170 deaths per year? Do they have those numbers? Or how about just hypothermia because they couldn’t pay their heating bills – or just freezing to death…


***if it makes u feel good, fine. however:
2 Sept: Beijing Review: China, Russia Start Construction of Gas Pipeline
The Russian part of the pipeline, officially named “the Power of Siberia”
pipeline, has a designed capacity of transmitting 61 billion cubic meters of
natural gas every year…
***Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said earlier this year that
Russia has the capacity of tripling or quadrupling the current volume of
electricity and coal exports to China…
2 Sept: WSJ: Edward P. Lazear: The Climate Change Agenda Needs to Adapt to Reality
Were China to continue at this pace for 27 years until it reaches today’s U.S. GDP per capita, it would emit 99 gigatons of carbon in 2041 alone, or three times the world’s current emissions…


meanwhile, in australia, our CAGW crowd are getting heated over the following, while ignoring our massive emissions exports to China, as usual:
4 Sept: SMH: Peter Hannam: Emissions from energy generation jump most in eight years after carbon price axed
Carbon emissions from the country’s main electricity grid have risen since the end of the carbon tax by the largest amount in nearly eight years.
Data from the National Electricity Market, which covers about 80 per cent of Australia’s population, shows that emissions from the sector rose by about 1 million tonnes, or 0.8 per cent, at an annualised rate last month compared with June.
That is the biggest two-month increase since the end of 2006, and came as a result of an increase in overall demand and a rise in the share of coal-fired power in the market, according to Pitt & Sherry’s monthly Cedex emissions index…
Greens leader Christine Milne said the figures are “yet more evidence that Tony Abbott has delivered for the big polluters”.
“Every tonne rise in emissions is another wad of cash in a coal baron’s pockets while driving extreme weather events that everyone else will pay the price of,” Senator Milne said…

China free coal pm25
10 seconds and two digits of iq
30 years of data
Deaths due to cardiovascular disease
No migration of studied population
High Pm2.5 in one region
Low In the other region
Life expectancy impacts about 5 years.
Now people stupidly turn these types of numbers into
Deaths. But the real health impact is shortened
Put toxic chemicals in your lungs for years. Don’t expect zero impact.
Of course some people made the same arguments against
Not very bright.
Lewandowski was wrong. Don’t make him right by
Spouting doubt when you don’t have to.
Nukes and gas much better. Bye bye coal.

There is nothing wrong with coal, and it has big advantages:
1. It is the cheapest electricity generator
2. It emits lots of beneficial CO2
What’s not to like?

john piccirilli

Indoor air pollution is part of the problem, partly due to new regs by epa.


A couple of years ago I noticed that the CARB (California Air Resources Board) website proclaimed the need for control of these particulates because an EPA study showed they were killing people. I used their link to get to a pdf copy of the study and noticed that at the outset the EPA admitted it wasn’t their study but the study of outside researchers. I then plowed through the thing (skipping the statistics) to get to their plain English conclusion. It was that their results indicated the particulates caused additional yearly deaths ranging from 0 (yes, Zero) to something like a couple thousand (don’t remember the exact number), but it was clear they had absolutely no idea whether or not these particulates were causing any health problems or deaths at all. Incidentally, in the body of the paper they admitted they had no known mechanism that could actually cause increased mortality. The ‘results’ of the research were very, very far down the totem pole from what CARB was claiming was a scientific basis for more regulations.

Steven Mosher on September 3, 2014 at 11:38 am said:

The largest controlled study of death by coal happened in China, where the government gave away free coal in one area while banning it in another area. for decades.

This has been shown to be blatantly untrue. The coal industry could sue for defamation.
There was a 2013 paper published in PNAS, Evidence on the impact of sustained exposure to air pollution on life expectancy from China’s Huai River policy by Yuyu Chen, Avraham Ebenstein, Michael Greenstone, and Hongbin Li. Link is full paper online. Abstract:

This paper’s findings suggest that an arbitrary Chinese policy that greatly increases total suspended particulates (TSPs) air pollution is causing the 500 million residents of Northern China to lose more than 2.5 billion life years of life expectancy. The quasi-experimental empirical approach is based on China’s Huai River policy, which provided free winter heating via the provision of coal for boilers in cities north of the Huai River but denied heat to the south. Using a regression discontinuity design based on distance from the Huai River, we find that ambient concentrations of TSPs are about 184 μg/m3 [95% confidence interval (CI): 61, 307] or 55% higher in the north. Further, the results indicate that life expectancies are about 5.5 y (95% CI: 0.8, 10.2) lower in the north owing to an increased incidence of cardiorespiratory mortality. More generally, the analysis suggests that long-term exposure to an additional 100 μg/m3 of TSPs is associated with a reduction in life expectancy at birth of about 3.0 y (95% CI: 0.4, 5.6).

To call that a “controlled study” shows either willful deception or deep ignorance of scientific research methods. It is no more a “controlled study” than an examination of flora in an East-West running valley, one side gets direct sunlight while the other does not.
It is not “death by coal”, they examined Total Suspended Particulates (TSP’s). Thus it could have been from burning coal, wood, dung, field waste, cardboard, it can even include ordinary dust. To call the results “death by coal” is like taking numbers for “deaths by blunt objects” and reporting it as “deaths by aluminum baseball bats”.
Steven Mosher further said:

This allows one to study life expectancy in each area. What we can say is that living in an area with high levels of PM2.5 can shorten your life.

As said, the paper looked at Total Suspended Particulates (TSP’s), not the more-current EPA designation PM2.5. The old TSP metric is mentioned in this archived EPA page:

Health and Environmental Effects: In 1987, EPA replaced the earlier Total Suspended Particulate (TSP) air quality standard with a PM-10 standard. The new standard focuses on smaller particles that are likely responsible for adverse health effects because of their ability to reach the lower regions of the respiratory tract. The PM-10 standard includes particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less (0.0004 inches or one-seventh the width of a human hair). EPA’s health-based national air quality standard for PM-10 is 50 µg/m3 (measured as an annual mean) and 150 µg/m3 (measured as a daily concentration).

The metric of the Chinese pollution paper included even larger particles than PM10. From this Mosher claims evidence that high levels of PM2.5 shortens lives. This is detestably sloppy scientific reasoning, far closer to the actions of an environmental activist than a scientific researcher. He might as well have looked at mortality figures for electric shocks involving up to 1000V AC and claimed to have proof of electrocutions from 16V doorbell circuits.
BTW, for those that are interested, EPA has data and graphs on six common air pollutants, which includes PM2.5 and PM10, here:
Clicking “How to interpret the graphs” and then the “criteria” link reveals the PM10 National Standard as of Dec 14, 2012 is a 24-hr average of 150 μg/m3, “Not to be exceeded more than once per year on average over 3 years”. National Trends, measured at 511 sites, the mean was in the low 60’s or lower 2009-2012 inc.
Thus numerically the US mean for PM10 is currently only a third of the increase of the more-encompassing TSP numbers in the Chinese pollution paper. United States air quality is thus so much more cleaner, extrapolation of effects of particulates from the Chinese pollution paper down to US levels may be problematic and not scientifically feasible. This is supported by the known mechanism of particulate removal from the lungs by mucus and cilia, thus a Linear No Threshold (LNT) model does not hold.
I found in the paper just how much worse air quality was in the examined areas:

Air quality in China is notoriously poor and recently has become an issue associated with increasing social unrest. Ambient concentrations of total suspended particulates (TSPs) between 1981–2001 were more than double China’s National Annual Mean Ambient Air Quality Standard of 200 µg/m3 (1) and five times the level that prevailed in the United States before the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. Furthermore, air quality is especially poor in Northern China, which is home to several of the world’s most polluted cities (2). Following a career in the Southern China city of Shanghai, Premier Zhu Rongi reportedly quipped in 1999: “If I work in your Beijing [in Northern China], I would shorten my life at least five years” (3).

I would say this indicates Mosher did not do his homework, but this is more glaring than that. Hanlon’s razor states: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. Mosher has previously shown himself to be too smart to allow stupidity alone to adequately explain this.
Not only does he deliberately continually refer to PM2.5, but he refers to PM2.5-size particles of toxic materials like lead or arsenic or mercury (1, 2, etc), which are already adequately filtered from US coal-fired electricity generators. Referring to the above-linked EPA figures, the 50-site National Trend mean for lead was only 0.126 μg/m3 in 2012. Compared to the PM10 mean, that is a very negligible amount. Yet Mosher goes on like that is THE issue with the emissions, when the original post above deals with coal use in North Carolina, United States, NOT emissions in China.
By misdirection, deception, and what may be termed outright fraud, Mosher has portrayed the Chinese pollution paper as something it was not, was never intended to be, and never could be, to use it as “proof” of what it never could prove.
Here he acts like he’s produced the link I requested, the ‘showing of his work’ that Anthony Watts wanted, but it is only a write-up of the paper. And even there the article states the TSP to PM2.5 mismatch, yet Mosher goes right to PM2.5 and toxic chemicals like the paper had specifically discussed those.
But in that last comment, comes comprehension. Mosher says:

Nukes and gas much better. Bye bye coal.

Pro-nuclear, anti-coal. Mosher is no impartial researcher, he is not evaluating the evidence in an unbiased scientific manner. He is an activist, willfully and selectively manipulating information until it tells the story he finds pleasing. He has become like James Hansen, save that Hansen thinks natural gas and coal are both far more harmful than nuclear energy.
Perhaps someday Mosher and Hansen can get arrested together at an anti-coal protest. They can spend time together discussing temperature records while waiting to get booked and released.

Saskatchewan is opening a “Clean Coal” plant.
Hope EPA doesn’t sue. Boundary Power Plant using “Boundary” water. Love to see EPA get snitty about it.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Yogyakarta

“Sulfur dioxide levels, for example, dropped an average of 20 percent a year from 2002 to 2012. Across all southeastern states, they dropped 13.6 percent per year.”
From what to what? There are lower limits beyond which there is no detectable benefit at all.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Yogyakarta

“It is not “death by coal”, they examined Total Suspended Particulates (TSP’s). Thus it could have been from burning coal, wood, dung, field waste, cardboard, it can even include ordinary dust. To call the results “death by coal” is like taking numbers for “deaths by blunt objects” and reporting it as “deaths by aluminum baseball bats”.”
I happen to work in the field of measuring particulate matter from combustion and the comments above are pretty good picture of the confusion that (pretty naturally) exists about a field that is gaining attention. I work with a guy who has spent many years analysing particles to establish where they come from. It adds a great deal of clarity to the subject.
About 50% of the PM in Beijing is from the farms around – ie it is dust from the ground or ‘fugitive dust’. Sometimes it is from the Gobi desert which is a producer of great yellow clouds of fine dust. So if no one burned anything in Beijing there would still be days above 150 microgrammes per cubic metre. When the Gobi winds start to blow, PM2.5 quickly goes above 1000.
What I find frustrating is the confusion between what a fuel contains, what might emerge from a fire burning it, and what the influence of the combustor is, separate from the fuel. Basically people blame the fuel for the faults actually originating in the combustor. There is some evidence of this in the paper:
Gordon, S, et al., Respiratory risks from household air pollution in low and middle income countries. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, Early Online Publication, 3 September 2014 doi:10.1016/S2213-2600(14)70168-7
The ’emissions’ from certain fuels are discussed as if they are inherent in the fuel, not the result of the combination of the fuel, the burner and the method of operation. In the USA the regulations cover both inherent emissions (such as sulfur which is in the fuel) and particles of incomplete combustion (PM2.5) which arise from either poor combustion or the large fans blowing the ash into the stack.
We need to separate these to talk about the problem sensibly. There are really good combustors for coal and wood and dung and biomass pellets and ethanol and kerosene and LPG. We can’t usefully entertain a comment like, “The combustion efficiency of dung is 85%.” Put dung into a combustor designed for it, and it is as perfect as you wish to make it. It is just another biofuel.
The metals or gases like SO2 which are scrubbed out of stacks are inherent because they are in the fuel. There is little point in forever ‘tightening’ regulations with a linear model of deaths avoided because there are limits below which there is literally no effect. We don’t wash our homes and kill literally every single bacterium that exists in it. It is pointless.
When the combustors are emitting PM at a lower level than exists naturally in the surrounding community then the net emissions are negative. That’s good enough for me.
The Blue Ridge Mountains are Blue because of the massive emissions of particles from the emissions of trees, far higher than is permitted by the EPA. If you want super-clean air, you will have to ban trees and wind.

george e. smith

Could we please get a list of the names of those 1700 people who are not dead yet, due to coal fired power plants ?? Can we please ??

george e. smith

Never mind.
I just found out that I am one of those 1700 persons who is not dead yet, because of coal fired power plants.
It’s a hell of a life; I am now compiling a list of all the other lists of non dean people that I am on, for not dying of some cause or other. It’s really scary how many of those lists I am on.


The problem is with the impact models. They are often based on attributions that derive from the literature, such as from the CDC. One description of an attribution determination indicated that it was over coffee, one person cogitated about how many loves might be saved it X was done. Another person guessed at a number per 100,000 people, so they ran with that, used it to calculate lives saved out of 300,000,000 and, BAM, the results were treated as real factual numbers at the next major meeting. These are numbers taken completely out of thin air. And anything based on a computer model today is highly suspect, regardless of how long they have been using it.