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Coal-fired Power Plants and Health


Coal-fired power plants not only contribute large amounts of greenhouse gases worldwide, they also emit pollutants that harm human health. Coal-fired power plants emit soot, the leading ingredient in air pollution, and mercury, which ends up in our soil and in our water supply. Here's a list of some harmful substance coal plants emit:

  • Particulate matter, the major component of soot or air pollution, spews out of coal plants.

  • Mercury is emitted from coal plants, and then travels to soil and into our water supply. Mercury gets lodged in fish tissue, and fish consumption by pregnant women puts their babies at risk.

  • Sulfur dioxide, the leading cause of acid rain, is also emitted from coal plants.

  • Nitrogen oxide, a large contributor to ground-level ozone, is also emitted.


Several published studies underscore the health harms caused by Chicago's 2 coal-fired power plants, Fisk and Crawford, located in two heavily populated neighborhoods on Chicago's southwest side, Pilsen and Little Village. These coal plants, which legislators have allowed to bypass EPA regulations, annually emit these environmental toxins into Chicago's air and water:

  • 260,000 pounds of particulate matter

  • 17,765 tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide

  • 269 pounds of mercury


The toxic emissions from Chicago's coal-fired power plants are harmful to human health. Published studies have shown that these emissions contribute to respiratory, cardiovascular and neurologic ailments. The coal plants have a particularly strong impact on asthma rates in Chicago. Specifically, each year emissions from Chicago's coal plants lead to:

  • 41 premature deaths

  • 550 additional emergency room visits

  • 2,800 additional asthma attacks


In general, emissions from coal-fired power plants cause these health effects:

  • Increased asthma attacks

  • Worsening rates of emphysema and other lung diseases

  • Increases in heart disease

  • Neurologic impairments in babies and children


Chicago PSR is an active member of the Chicago Clean Power Coalition, a group of more than 60 organizations working to pass a law that would shut down Chicago's coal plants. Through our work as a Coalition member, Chicago PSR board members have spoken at rallies aimed at raising public awareness of the coal plants, testified at Chicago City Council hearings, and participated in a Greenpeace documentary about efforts to shut down the coal plant.

Chicago PSR has also sponsored a lecture for medical students and faculty at the UIC College of Medicine on the health effects of Chicago's coal plants.

Chicago PSR is available to speak to your civic group, non-profit or student group about the health effects of coal plants. Please contact us for more information.

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