The use of coal to generate electricity is one of the most effective technologies in the US and other parts of the world. Through coal, the public can access low-priced, reliable and enough electricity, as compared to other sources such as oil and natural gas, which are affected by international demands. Apart from its economic advantage, coal is a source of power that is expected to last for several years, as opposed to natural gas and oil, whose deposits would diminish with time. The generation of electricity through coal is a simple process that would cost the government little in terms of resources. The process is simple since chunks of coal are simply compressed into a fine powder and fed into a burning unit where they are expected to burn. The high temperature from burning coal is utilized in producing steam, which is further used to spin one or more engines to produce energy. However, the main focus of this paper is to evaluate the effectiveness of the coal-fired plant. This would mean that the paper seeks to analyze the effects of coal technology on human health and the environment.
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Operation of the Coal-fired Power Plant
Air Pollutants and their Effects on the Environment and Humans
Coal power plants are known to emit a number of toxicological products, popularly referred to as HAPS. The pollutants are released into the environment in various forms. For instance, they might be released in form of acid gases, which are known to interfere with the normal functioning of the body. When human bodies are exposed to pollutants, some body systems, such as the blood transmission system and the breathing system, are affected. Long exposure is also blamed for damaging body organs such as lungs, kidneys and the nervous system. Some of these pollutants are discussed below. Moreover, the effects of the pollutants on human health and the environment are also discussed.
Some of the acid gases include hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride, which are corrosive acids. Coal-fired plants are believed to emit the above gases to the air in large quantities. Research shows that hydrogen fluoride particles can travel up to 500 kilometers in the air. People with asthma suffer from irritation when exposed to hydrogen fluoride, which is plenty in the air due to the presence of coal-fired plants. Moreover, the acids tend to temper with eye tissues, nasal tracts, and lungs. The acids affect the formation of clouds in the air because chloride substances combine with other substances to form acidic clouds, which are known to cause acidic deposits in certain areas.
Dioxin is a term used to refer to the chemical family of polychlorinated dibenzodioxins, which are the chemical substances released to air by the coal-fired power plants. The chemicals are by-products of burning fossil fuels. Dioxin has two major components, which are dangerous to the environment and human health. However, the number of atoms in each substance determines the toxicity of the pollutant. Dioxin is found in the air as a gas and as a particle. Lowly chlorinated dioxins are able to mix in air while highly chlorinated dioxins exist as particles meaning that they cannot mix. The gaseous form of the chemical could be eliminated from the atmosphere through the troposphere process while the particles can reside in air for over ten days. Since it has the ability to reside in the air for long, the particles might affect people in various ways. Dioxins are stored in water bodies and soil. The particles are known to penetrate through the soil ending up in water bodies. This would definitely affect aquatic life. Human beings would probably consume the harmful chemical by eating fish and consuming contaminated water. In a study conducted in 2003 by the US Department of Agriculture, dioxin was found in at least four classes of meat and poultry. Dioxins would have the ability to stay in the body for over ten years. Therefore, it would stay in human bodies for long, which would affect even the fetus. Children would be affected through mother’s milk. In the study, those people known to have come into contact with dioxin suffered from liver diseases and a skin problem referred to as chloracne. Long-term effects to humans include deformed immune systems, warped naval systems and problems related to reproduction. Moreover, the chemicals can interfere with the DNA structure.
The term is used to refer to a class of radioactive substances. Radioactive materials have the capability to destroy body cells and cause diseases such as cancer. Coal-fired plants emit radioactive substances such as radium and uranium to the air, which are always in particle form. These chemicals cannot mix in the air meaning that they can harm people, as well as other living organisms.
Mercury is one of the most dangerous substances emitted by coal-fired plants. The substance is very dangerous because it can affect the central nervous system. The pollutant affects the environment because it mixes with gases to form harmful rain and snow. In a study conducted in 2006, it was found that coal-fired plants accounted for over 70% of mercury emissions. Microorganisms can convert mercury in the soil into a harmful form substance referred to as methyl mercury.
As earlier stated, coal is the cheapest source of power, which cannot be eliminated in the US. The only solution is to come up with regulatory measures that would help reduce the effects of harmful substances. A study conducted in New England proved that communities who lived near coal-fired plants felt the effects of harmful substances more as compared to those that lived far from the plants. Harmful substances have the capacity to circulate to the environment before being transported to the dumping sites. Therefore, one of the regulatory suggestions would be to erect coal-fired plants at a reasonable distance, far away from the locals.
The pollutants circulate faster when coal-fired plants are constructed in mountainous places as compared to when constructed in sloppy areas. The lower stacks have the ability to affect only the surrounding populations while high stacks could perhaps affect both the immediate surroundings and other places. It is recommended that coal power plants be erected in sloppy areas. It would be simple to control the effects of chemicals because the surrounding population would simply be evacuated. Tall stacks have the capacity to affect the quality of air. However, tall stacks are preferred because pollutants are transported to other regions meaning the effects are evenly distributed. A study conducted in Wisconsin in 2003 found out that over 80% of the population is affected by coal-fired plants since the emitted substances affect their health. The situation is worse when high stacks are erected because the effects could be felt even in the neighboring states.
Technologies could also be used to minimize the effects of pollutants. The technologies are already in use to control emissions in some parts of the country meaning the new power plant can as well utilize the technology to conserve the environment. Specific technologies have been devised to contain the effects of acidic gases, chloride particles and mercury. Wet Flue Gas Desulfurization is one of the technologies that could be used effectively to reduce the effects of pollutants on human health and the environment. Research shows that Wet Flue Gas Desulfurization could reduce the effects of acidic gases by 32%. In particular, the technology reduces the effects of hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen cyanide and mercury. FGD is one of the easiest technologies to use because it entails a simple process of mixing it with limestone. The liquid is then sprayed into the boiler to minimize the emission of harmful gases mentioned above.
Operation of the Smelter
Contaminants and Risks
Smelting activities are known to emit harmful substances to water bodies such as arsenic deposits, copper deposits and lead particles. These substances are harmful to human health, as well as the environment. In one of the studies conducted in the US, it was found out that residential soil had high quantities of lead, copper and arsenic substances. Arsenic deposits were found to be in low concentrations of bout 12.5mg to 540mg/kg per sample. However, copper was in high concentration of about 1270mg/kg to 39,700mg/kg per sample. Furthermore, smelter operation is associated with water discharges such as selenium and molybdenum. Measurements obtained from air samples within the smelter region had impurities of cadmium, chromium and arsenic materials. Regions surrounding the smelter had high levels of arsenic acids, which were over 0.239ug/m3 while regions without a smelter had very little levels of arsenic acids of about 0.0004ug/m3. The smelter affects the composition of air to greater extents.
Health and Environmental Effects
The pollutants emitted during the process of smelting metals affect the environment and human beings in a number of ways. The pollutants affect the environment because the substances mix with air and other substances to form acidic rain. For instance, the smelting of sulfide metals would perhaps produce sulfur dioxide gases. The sulfide gases are known to react with other chemicals in air to form a dangerous sulfuric acid mist. Acidic rains augment the levels of acids in soils, lakes, and rivers. These acids are dangerous to aquatic life and vegetation. This would mean that smelter pollutants would affect wildlife as well. Copper pollutants have harmful chemicals that can affect vegetation, even though plants and animals use them for nourishment. Arsenic chemicals are toxic substances that affect the normal functioning of the heart and the nervous system.
Research shows that wastes and slag, which are by-products of smelter plants, are simple to manage. One of the recommendations is that wastes and slag should be recycled to prevent their effects on the environment and human beings. If this option is adopted, the waste material to be disposed of would be little hence the environment would not be affected. Another recommendation is that the smelter plant should adopt the current technologies, which have been proved to prevent smelter pollution. New technologies have the capability of capturing sulfur dioxide. The new devices, such as electrostatic precipitators, should be used to capture chemical particles. The particles could perhaps be returned to the boilers for more processing.
Site of the Smelter
Several health issues would emerge as regards situating the smelter in a low-income neighborhood. One of them would be child health concerns. Children are said to be more vulnerable to chemicals as opposed to any other category of individuals in society. Therefore, children would demand special attention as regards chemical contamination. Since children spent most of their time playing outdoors, they are expected to inhale harmful gases and would possibly come into contact with contaminated materials. Moreover, it is believed that children would inhale harmful gases from dust since they are short as compared to adults. Children are at risk of being affected by chemicals since their cells are still developing. Some environmentalists would argue that children rely on adults for risk identification and management.
Some politicians would claim that the smelter plant would interfere with the social welfare of the poor because it would expose them to hazardous conditions yet they have no access to proper health care. Therefore, the poor would demand that they be compensated for being exposed to harmful gases from the smelter. Moreover, the poor would demand that they be employed in the smelter plant, even though some might not have adequate skills for running the machines.
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To avoid conflicts with the poor, some enforcement measures would be adopted to resolve the problem. The smelter plant officials would be called upon to honor the ideals of corporate social responsibility whereby the proceeds from the plant would be used to construct social amenities such as schools, dispensaries, and social halls.
For the plant to meet its objectives, it should adopt some general recommendations such as involving the community in the running and managing of the plant. For instance, the locals should be incorporated into the management committee. This would help in formulating policies that would solve the issues related to environmental conservation and human health.