By Caty Arévalo
Pollution from national coal-fired power plants and from the rest of Europe were responsible for 1,170 premature deaths in Spain in 2013, a figure similar to those who died in traffic accidents that year (1,128), according to a WWF report supported by the World Organization Health (WHO).
The study, "The black cloud over Europe: effects of coal burning on the health and economy of the EU" published by WWF together with the Alliance for Health and the Environment (HEAL) and the Action Network for the Climate in Europe (CAN), analyzes the health impacts of air pollution from coal plants for which data are available in the EU: 257 of the 280 existing.
His conclusion is that in 2013 emissions from coal throughout Europe were responsible for more than 22,900 premature deaths (comparable to 26,000 deaths in traffic accidents in the same year), “tens of thousands of cases of ill health due to diseases of the heart or bronchitis ”, and a health expenditure of up to 62.3 billion euros.
The report also studies how the harmful dust produced by the plants travels across European borders, and the effect it has inside and outside of them.
The data indicate that the five countries that cause the most deaths outside and within their territory are Poland (5,830 premature deaths), Germany (4,350), the United Kingdom (2,870), Romania (2,170) and Bulgaria (1,570).
Spain is the sixth country responsible for premature deaths caused by coal plants and its most polluting thermal power plants are “Andorra”, in Teruel; "Aboño", in Asturias; "As Pontes", in Galicia, and "Litoral", in Almería.
On the contrary, there are seven EU countries that do not burn coal: Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Malta, and three that have pledged to stop using it: Portugal in 2020 and the United Kingdom and Austria in 2025.
In addition to premature deaths, pollutants also cause other diseases, such as about 11,800 new cases of chronic bronchitis and 538,000 million asthma attacks in children in the EU, according to these organizations.
The report highlights that approximately 21,000 hospital admissions and 6.6 million lost working days are related to emissions from coal plants in Europe.
The health impacts of coal, along with the reduction in productivity caused by abstention from work, also generate an economic impact, quantified by these organizations between 32,400 and 62,300 million euros in 2013.
Raquel García, technician of the WWF Spain climate and energy program, stresses that these costs “are not covered by the coal sector but are borne by society, including direct and indirect health costs that fall on national budgets in health".
"The closure of coal-fired power plants is essential, in addition to public health, to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement, in which it was agreed to limit the increase in global temperature below 1.5 degrees", Garcia adds.
The WWF spokeswoman recalls that 18% of the greenhouse effect emissions in Europe come from the fumes of 280 coal plants, and calls for the end of coal subsidies in Spain in 2018 and the closure of the plants that burn this fuel in 2025, "with a just transition for the mining sector."
"Air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths, but the good news is that reducing the use of coal offers a unique opportunity to improve air quality and mitigate climate change, and therefore protect health," says Dr. Roberto Bertollini, Chief Scientist and WHO Representative to the EU.