The aim of the study is to critically assess the health impact of various forms of air pollution arising from overreliance on coal so as to inform current and future health policy directions. The justification of the study is premised on the fact that China is one of the worlds largest coal producers and consumers (Chen et al 1293), hence the need to evaluate the health implications of coal pollution on the population.
Indeed, extant literature demonstrates that China has now passed the U.S. in Co2 emissions and other forms of air pollution due to its huge population, fast economic development, rapid urbanization, and heavy dependence on coal (Kuby et al 795; Wang 1707).
A lot of existing literature has focused on the high rate of Co2 emissions into the environment arising from Chinas overdependence of coal as a fundamental source of energy. The high rate of Co2 emissions is intrinsically tied to the fact China has long been the worlds largest producer and consumer of coal and now uses 39 percent of the worlds total (Kuby et al 795).
Other statistics demonstrate that the total energy consumption in China has increased 70 percent between 2000 and 2005, with coal consumption increasing by 75 percent, indicating an over the last few years (The World Bank xi).
Coal production and consumption has been accused of causing and aggravating various forms of pollution, including solid emissions (particulates) resulting from exploitation, transportation and stockpiling activities (Milena et al 223), harmful gases emissions (e.g., Co2, methane, and exhaust gases) arising from use of coal and transportation means (Zhang et al 849), as well as land pollution arising from abandonment of coal mines once decommissioned (Singer 281).
However, available literature demonstrates that the quality of air has suffered the most in all activities involving coal production and consumption (Zhang & Smith 850), with significant environmental and health implications that must be addressed to ensure the health and wellbeing of the population since coal is likely to remain the major source of energy in China in the foreseeable future (Chen et al 1292; Wang 1709).
Over the years, many scholars have positively correlated coal production and use with adverse health outcomes in the general population (The World Bank 4). This is because coal contains numerous harmful contaminants that are released into the environment without being destroyed during combustion (Peng et al 2285).
Indeed, extant literature demonstrates that unlike biomass, many coals contain intrinsic contaminants such as sulfur, arsenic, silica, fluorine, lead and mercury (Zhang & Smith 849). Particulates arising from coal production and transportation have also been directly linked to negative health outcomes.
It is strongly suggested that health outcomes are strongly linked to particle size, with scientific evidence suggesting that fine particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10) is likely to be most hazardous to the health and wellbeing of individuals because such fine particulates can be inhaled profoundly into the lungs where the clearance period of deposited particulates is much longer, hence enhancing the potential for unfavorable health outcomes (Peng et al 2284).
Since China will be relying on coal to meet its energy needs in the foreseeable future, it is therefore very important to critically evaluate the human health impact of coal pollution in the country so as to and develop strategies that can then be applied to reduce adverse health impacts.