141st APHA Annual Meeting

In This section

Coal exports: Corporate profit before human and environmental health

Monday, November 4, 2013 : 2:50 PM - 3:10 PM

Martin Donohoe, MD, FACP , School of Community Health, Portland State University, Portland, OR
In the wake of declining coal consumption in the U.S., energy companies plan to increase profits by shipping Powder River Basin coal, purchased cheaply from public land, through the Pacific Northwest to China and India. Proposals call for up to 150 million tons of coal/yr transported by barges and up to 26 trains/day, each train over 100 cars (1 mile) long and powered by 4 diesel engines. There are myriad, severe health and environmental consequences of coal extraction, transport, and burning in power plants. These include the risks to workers; exposure of citizens to diesel particulate matter, coal dust, and noise; frequent long train crossings which will delay emergency medical response vehicles; accidents; increased air pollution and ground level ozone; release of neurotoxic/fetotoxic mercury into the air; and exacerbation of global warming.

Coal is a dying 19th Century technology with Dickensian effects on human health and the environment. To counter corporate efforts to internalize profits from coal, while externalizing health and environmental costs, a coalition of health care professionals, scientists, environmentalists, urban gardeners, educators, students, and concerned citizens has been working to stop companies from using the Pacific Northwest as America's coal chute to Asia, while advocating for an energy policy for the 21st century, using clean technologies that would provide long-term, well-paying, and safe jobs. Their actions provide a model for activists involved in similar activities involving other threats to health and well-being.

Learning Areas:
Advocacy for health and health education
Environmental health sciences
Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Occupational health and safety
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Discuss the economics of proposed coal exports from the Powder River Basin, through the Pacific Northwest, to Asia. Explain the health consequences of coal mining and transport, including the effects of diesel particulate matter, coal dust, noise, frequent long train crossings impeding emergency vehicle transport, and train and barge accidents. Describe the environmental consequences of burning coal, in the U.S. and abroad, including increased air pollution and ground level ozone, mercury pollution, and global warming. Discuss, from a social justice perspective, the actions of corporations hoping to profit from massive coal exports, the role of labor, and the implications for U.S. and world energy policy. Explain how coalitions of health care and environmental activists and concerned citizens are working to prevent coal transport through the Pacific Northwest, and how their actions represent a model for others working to fight corporate greed and promote clean energy technologies.

Keywords: Environmental Health, Social Justice

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: As a physician and educator, I have taught, written about, and speak frequently about the health and environmental consequences of coal and corporations impacting public health.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.