Pollution from power plants fuelled by Australian coal kills an estimated 12,400 people a year.

Click on the image to view the full sized infographic (pdf).

See below for an explanation of how that figure was obtained.

How Many People Does Aussie Coal Kill?
How Many People Does Aussie Coal Kill?


According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (and GreenBiz Cafe’s video clip), the average 500 megawatt coal-fired power station produces

  • 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide
  • 28 tonnes of sulfur dioxide
  • 1.4 tonnes of airborne particles
  • 27 tonnes of nitrogen dioxide
  • 2 tonnes of carbon monoxide
  • 0.6 tonnes of hydrocarbons
  • 0.2 kilograms of mercury
  • 0.3 kilograms of lead and
  • more radiation than a nuclear power plant.

All of which has a severe impact on health.

The most authoritative study of the “true cost” of coal-fired power plants, taking into account the environmental cost and the human impact in terms of deaths and illness, was commissioned by the Ministry of Energy of Ontario, Canada, in 2005 (see: “Cost Benefit Analysis: Replacing Ontario’s Coal-Fired Electricity Generation” by DSS Management Consultants Inc and RWDI Air Inc.

This study found that an average of 24.74 deaths per TWh per annum could be attributed to the use of coal for power generation.

Ontario has excellent medical services that are readily accessed by all members of society. The population density in Ontario is much lower than most other countries. Although Australia has an even lower overall population density, most of the coal-fired power stations and most of the population are confined to relatively densely populated coastal regions. Accordingly, estimates of annual coal-based electricity deaths in Australia based on Ontario are likely to be close underestimates. For the countries to which Australia exports coal, they are likely to be significant underestimates.

According to an Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics report, in 2009-10, Australia produced a total of 241.6 TWh of electricity of which 180.45 TWh was produced in coal power plants.

Using the figure of 24.74 deaths per TWh per annum, coal power plants would be responsible for the deaths of (180.45 x 24.74 = ) 4,464 Australians annually.

According to another Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics report, in 2009-10, Australia exported 190.7 million tonnes of thermal coal of which 68.2 million tonnes was consumed in Australia and 122.5 million tonnes was exported. More than 90% of this went to developed countries – Japan, South Korea, Europe and Taiwan. (Most of the coal which Australia exports to China, and almost all of the coal exported to India, is coking coal, used in steel manufacture. In 2009-10, Australia produced 136.3 million tonnes of coking coal, of which 128 million tonnes was exported.)

If 68.2 million tonnes of coking coal produced 180.45 TWh in Australia, the 122.5 million tonnes that was exported should have produced about (180.45 / 68.2 x 122.5 = ) 324.12 TWh (bearing in mind that most of it went to developed countries with similarly sophisticated technology).

Using the Ontario figure of 24.74 deaths per TWhr, which is certainly an underestimate for the more densely populated countries to which Australia exports, Australia’s exported thermal coal would have been reposonsible for (324.12 x 24.74 = ) 8,018 deaths annually.

The total number of deaths attributable to Australian thermal coal is therefore (4,464 + 8,018 =) 12, 482.

It is extimated that the world’s coal-fired power plants are responsible for 170,000 deaths annually.

Creative Commons Image Credits:

  • “Hazelwood Power Station ESP” by Simpsons Fan 66 via Wikimedia
  • “Strip Coal Mining” by Stephen Codrington via Wikimedia
  • “Newcastle Harbour” by Ben Felps via Flickr
  • “Toxteth Cemetry” by Irate/gallery2010 via Wikimedia.