AUSTIN (KXAN) — A group of researchers from the University of Texas Austin, along with others from six universities, found that coal-fired power plants have harmed the United States — causing more than 103,000 deaths nationwide in coal-fired power plants since 1999, according to a news release from UT.
The team found that the coal electricity-generating emissions caused approximately 460,000 deaths from 1999 to 2020 in the Medicare population from 480 coal-fired power plants in the U.S., the release said.
The highest death rates from coal in 1999 decreased about 95% by 2020, Cory Zigler, senior author and associate professor for UT’s Department of Statistics and Data Science noted in the research.
Co-author Jessica Roberts, assistant professor in the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, created an online tool that allows comparison of deaths from each power plant. It shows that the power plants in Texas caused 27,000 deaths nationwide during the study, majority of them happening in other states. Texas is also affected by what happens outside of the borders. Between 1999 and 2020, 19,600 Texans died, 10,880 of the deaths were because of Texas power plants and the remainder of deaths were caused by power plants in other states.
“I see this as a success story,” Zigler said in the release. “Coal power plants were this major burden that U.S. policies have already significantly reduced. But we haven’t completely eliminated the burden. So, this study provides us a better understanding of how health will continue to improve and lives will be saved if we move further toward a clean energy future.”
According to UT, the Keystone power plant in Pennsylvania “dropped to below 100 deaths per year” after before emissions scrubbers were installed. The previous average of deaths was more than “600 per year” before the scrubbers were installed. They became more popular in coal facilities to use alternatives to coal, such as natural gas, and similar progress was achieved around the country.
“Fine-particle air pollution from coal has been treated as if it’s just another air pollutant, but it’s much more harmful than we thought, and its mortality burden has been seriously underestimated,” said lead author Lucas Henneman, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at George Mason University. “This work shows that cutting emissions from coal power plants can save lives in downwind communities.”
From 1999 to 2020 approximately 480 coal power plants operated in the U.S., and all of them are required to send a report of the sulfur dioxide emissions to the EPA. The team used this data to track the coal pollution, according to UT.
The researchers tracked where the wind could carry the sulfur dioxide particles from every coal power plant, some traveling hundreds of miles, the release said.