Based on scientific literature, there is evidence that coal-fired power plants have
health and social impacts; however, there is a lack of peer-reviewed local studies to systematically guide industry practice and policy decisions.
International studies show that the biggest impact of coal on human health comes from the combustion phase of its life cycle.
Burning coal generates by-products such as “carbon dioxide, methane, particulates and oxides of nitrogen, oxides of sulfur, mercury, and a wide range of carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals.” The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA) also declared that coal-fired power plants emit 84 of the 187 hazardous air pollutants - some of these are fuel-based or are contaminants that are released by burning, while some are combustion-based, which are formed during burning. These hazardous air pollutants have short-term effects such as skin and eye irritations. Some of the long-term effects include the following:
In the Philippines, there is a dearth of studies on health impacts of pollution from coal-fired power plants. Few documented cases nevertheless point to the existence of health concerns in host communities.
The populations most vulnerable to these health effects are fetuses, infants, children, the elderly, hypersensitive, smokers, diabetics and those with heart disease.
The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal published an article summarizing the health effects for every TWh (Terrawatt-hour) of electricity produced from coal in Europe. The authors estimated the following health effects: 24.5 deaths, 225 serious illnesses including hospital admissions, congestive heart failure and chronic bronchitis, and 13,288 minor illnesses. The authors said that health damage is even greater in countries like China, which has fewer air pollution standards, higher use of coal or poorer quality coal: 77 deaths per TWh from a CFPP that met environmental standards and estimated 250,000 deaths per year, based on estimates of coal combustion in China.
Lockwood et al., p. vi
Epstein, et al., p. 85
Environmental Health and Engineering, p. 10
Lockwood et al., p.x-xi
[Acessed: 8 November 2015]
Markandya and Wilkinson in Burt, et al., p. 4.
ADB compliance Review Panel, p.iv.
Ibid., p. 7-8.
Ibid. p. 14.
Ibid. p. 15.
Orbeta & Rofu (2003)
Orbeta and Rofu, p. 29
NAQSR 2012-2013, p. 26.
The American Lung Association has also enumerated the health effects of the hazardous air pollutants from CFPPs:
Literature on the health impacts of CFPPs in the Philippines is not yet robust, but documented cases show actionable findings. In Naga City, Cebu, affected persons filed a complaint before the Asian Development Bank’s Compliance Review Panel (CRP), where they alleged that the 200 MW CFPP it funded will cause adverse health impacts. The new CFPP is located on the previous ash pond disposal area of the existing 203.8 MW Naga Power Plant. Based on its review the CRP finds that:
From 1999 to 2004, the leading cause of death (33%) in the project area was pneumonia;
Data for 2008–2009 indicate that upper respiratory tract infections were the most common; diseases among people living in barangays of direct impact and adjacent barangay;
Both mortality and morbidity levels were much higher than national averages;
Air emissions are likely affecting the health of residents of communities directly impacted;
Air emissions from the new plant could further deteriorate air quality and could potentially increase negative health impacts in the project area.
At that time, air pollution sources included the CFPP, a cement plant, quarrying operations and motor vehicles.
The CRP essentially found that ADB violated its own environmental policies. But since the project was already completed and operational, the CRP claimed that it is limited to practical recommendations that would minimize adverse health and environmental impacts. It specifically recommended that ADB undertake community outreach programs on preventing negative health impacts from air, water, and noise pollution and from exposure to unprotected coal ash deposits.
Another study assessed the health effects associated with particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers (PM10), sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions from four coal-fired power plants in Luzon. The 2003 study on “Air Quality Impacts of Increased Use of Indigenous Fuels in the Philippines” estimated the health effects on populations in 53 municipalities within 30-km radius of the four coal-fired power plants under the high indigenous scenario, where energy is sourced more from local coal, natural gas, and renewable energy. The study projected that in 2002 to 2011, average incidence of premature mortality is estimated at 982 cases annually while incidence of morbidity effects such as as asthma, acute bronchitis, and chronic bronchitis are 107,392, 28,893 and 1,680 cases respectively.
Environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act are designed to address the impacts of CFPPs on health by regulating pollution, but there appears to be implementation gaps.
Emission standards for stationary sources, ambient air quality guidelines values, and effluents standards have not been reviewed nor revised. There is lack of ambient air quality monitoring stations in the municipalities and cities hosting coal-fired power plants. Data according to the latest National Air Quality Status Report (NAQSR) 2012-2013 show that EMB has nine monitoring stations with complete equipment to monitor pollutants such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and ozone, but of the municipalities and cities hosting coal-fired power plants, only Davao City and Naga City, Cebu, have monitoring equipment by EMB. Davao City has a complete monitoring station for ambient air, while Naga City is only monitored for total suspended particulates.
Consultations and public participation relating to CFPPs have been problematic.
Local government officials must create an environment where the integrity and independence of the consultations are ensured and supported.
There were allegations form Mariveles, Bataan that they communities were made to believe by the local government officials that a planned CFPP will use natural gas as fuel. In a paralegal training for fisher folks and farmers in September 2015, residents from affected barangays in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte, shared that local government officials also told them during an assembly that a solar power plant will be built, which made them put their guards down.
There is an apparent lack of transparency in the utilization of CFPP related compensation funds.
Compensation funds including the electricity, development and livelihood funds, and the reforestation, watershed management, health or environment enhancement fund or RWMHEE, all mandated under Energy Regulation 1-94 (IRR of the DOE Act of 1992 or RA 7638) involve billions of pesos, and projects funded from these have been implemented in affected communities. But there appears to be lack of information on how much has been paid by the energy-producing companies to the DOE, disclosure on how much is available to the resettled communities and host LGUs, and reporting on disbursement of funds by the LGUs.