US Climate and Health Alliance

Scientific Evidence of Health Effects from Coal Use in Energy Generation


Access to electricity has a positive effect on the health and well-being of people worldwide. However, the use of coal to generate energy has negative health consequences. There is evidence of coal’s impact on human health during every stage of its use for electricity generation—from mining to postcombustion disposal. In particular, the combustion of coal has been well-studied, with compelling evidence of widespread health effects on the population. Air pollution produced by coal combustion in power plants can affect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems as well as cause abnormal neurological development in children, poor growth of the fetus before birth, and can cause cancer. Coal used for heating and cooking indoors, generates pollutants in indoor air that are known to cause respiratory ailments and cancer. Moreover, coal combustion contributes to climate change, which can harm human health on a global scale. This document includes scientific evidence of health effects from the use of coal for energy generation. Its aim is to serve as a resource for those interested in the evidence from the health research literature addressing the health effects of the use of coal, focusing primarily on air emissions from coal combustion. Biomedical research databases (Ovid Medline and PubMed) were searched for all articles using the search terms “coal or solid fuel” and “health or burden or economic or cost”. English language articles published in the last 10 years were exclusively included unless the article was of unique value. Articles examining coal use in power plants were prioritized for review, and exposures produced by alternative uses of coal were in general excluded. Background readings found on the Internet along with resources from industry and environmental non-governmental organizations were also reviewed, but were not used in this document. They are provided in the accompanying Additional Resources section. Citations are provided using a standard scientific format to aid those who may be interested in accessing full-text articles.

Resource Type
Health Care Without Harm
Resource URL
April 2013
Organization Type
Health and Human Impact
Climate and Environmental Impact
Air pollution
Emission Sources
Conventional energy Energy Conventional
Fossil Fuel
Climate science

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