The other day my commentary on the twin fatal accidents at the nonunion mine in Utah inspired a lively discussion about the dangers of the coal mining industry for workers, especially in America's nonunion mines where safety conditions may be more lax due to the inability of the nonunion miners to voice concerns about workplace safety without fear of losing their job as being tagged as "troublemakers" or "whistleblowers". In some nonunion mines, it is only the inspection by federal regulators that sometimes prevents some accidents. Sometimes these inspections only come about six times in a year.
But it is also America's demand for electricity that also places coal miners at risk. In 2006 there were 72 fatal accidents, and incidents involving injury averaged 21,351 between 1991 and 1996 for example. In addition many miners develop serious health related problems such as "black lung" or other life threatening health issues as a result of their dangerous work.
Despite obvious issues with air pollution, coal power still provides about 55% of the U.S. and Canadian electricity production. But this reliance on coal also results in serious health consequences for the public as well. Even a Canadian city like Ontario estimates that it costs $10 billion a year in added health care costs for air pollution induced health problems that kill an average of 2,000 city residents each year. And this problem is repeated in American community after community that relies on coal use for electricity production despite efforts to limit the toxic smog produced by coal-fired electricity production.
Despite claims by the coal industry of coal being a relatively clean source of electricity production, coal-fired electricity production still involves creation of harmful toxins that destroy air quality and endanger the public health. Nitrogen oxide continues to hang close to the ground level, creating a health endangering ozone layer. Sulfur dioxide creates a yellow haze that hangs over communities with coal-fired electricity production, and mercury, lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and chromium continue to endanger the public health.
Other communities use different means to satisfy the American appetite for electricity to power computers, lights, TVs and other modern goods such as nuclear reactor-generated electricity. However, the serious problem of radioactive waste makes this a less desirable option. Cleaner alternatives such as wind power, solar and hydro exist with zero toxic emissions production. Waste from landfills can also be burned, but does create some emissions. Natural gas use produces 99% less sulfur dioxide emissions as well as no mercury, lead or heavy metals.
Coal is a plentiful resource that can last for centuries as a source of electricity production. But the moral arguments of placing miners lives in danger as well injuring the public through toxic air pollution production must be debated by the U.S. and cleaner and safer alternatives must remain as the goal. The other alternative is more tragic Sago and Utah-type coal mine accidents that only cost more human lives.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!