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Coal-Fired Power Plants On The Ohio River





Along The Ohio River on Route 2 in West By Gawd

August 25, 2021


What is that coming out of the stacks of a coal-fired power plant?


That pume contains gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide into the air, as well a significant volume of wastewater which may contain lead, mercury, cadmium and chromium, as well as arsenic, selenium and nitrogen compounds (nitrates and nitrites)


There are several principal emissions result from coal combustion:

  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2), which contributes to acid rain and respiratory illnesses

  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx), which contribute to smog and respiratory illnesses

  • Particulates, which contribute to smog, haze, and respiratory illnesses and lung disease

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the primary greenhouse gas produced from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas)

  • Mercury and other heavy metals, which have been linked to both neurological and developmental damage in humans and other animals

  • Fly ash and bottom ash, which are residues created when power plants burn coal

In the past, fly ash was released into the air through the smokestack, but laws now require that most emissions of fly ash be captured by pollution control devices. In the United States, fly ash and bottom ash are generally stored near power plants or placed in landfills. Pollution leaching from coal ash storage and landfills into groundwater and several large impoundments of coal ash that ruptured are environmental concerns.


Then there is the pollution that results from coal mining:


Surface mines (sometimes called strip mines) were the source of about 62% of the coal mined in the United States in 2019. These mining operations remove the soil and rock above coal deposits, or seams. The largest surface mines in the United States are in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, where coal deposits are close to the surface and are up to 70 feet thick.

Mountaintop removal and valley fill mining has affected large areas of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia and Kentucky. In this form of coal extraction, the tops of mountains are removed using explosives. This technique changes the landscape, and streams are sometimes covered with rock and dirt. The water draining from these filled valleys may contain pollutants that can harm aquatic wildlife downstream. Although mountaintop mining has existed since the 1970s, its use became more widespread and controversial beginning in the 1990s.


U.S. laws require that dust and water runoff from areas affected by coal mining operations must be controlled, and the area must be reclaimed close to its original condition.


Underground mines generally affect the landscape less than surface mines. However, the ground above mine tunnels can collapse, and acidic water can drain from abandoned underground mines.


Methane gas that occurs in coal deposits can explode if it concentrates in underground mines. This coalbed methane must be vented out of mines to make mines safer places to work. In 2018, methane emissions from coal mining and abandoned coal mines accounted for about 11% of total U.S. methane emissions and about 1% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (based on global warming potential). Some mines capture and use or sell the coalbed methane extracted from mines.


Makes me proud that I spent most of my career working with nuclear and renewable power plants.

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