The Proposal of Coal Power Usage in Jamaica: A serious Health and Environment Threat
In recent years, the recognition of the links between human rights and the environment has greatly increased. Many States now incorporate a right to a healthy environment in their constitutions. Countries such as Jamaica- regardless of its economic vulnerability – still have substantive obligations to adopt legal and institutional frameworks that protect against environmental harm that interferes with the enjoyment of human rights. This including harm that could be caused by private sector actors and their lobbyists seeking to exploit the country’s economic vulnerability.
The publication of a headline in the daily Gleaner entitled “Coal power to the rescue” on Sunday the 11th of May is cause for a great consternation. The article quoted the ex- director general of the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), Winston Hay, as lobbying the Jamaican Government to use its public service agencies to educate the public on the usefulness of coal generated power. Winston Hay wants a public service agencies lead initiative to spearhead a public-education campaign aimed at “demystifying the arguments around the use of coal as an environmentally acceptable source of energy”. What an audacious and gravity defying attempt at bamboozling an unsuspecting Jamaican public.
Such a dishonest suggestion by the former head of the National Planning Agency if remains unchallenged- will cause the the late John Maxwell journalist and environment activist to have a violent epileptic fit of anger from his grave. So if only for the dignity of the late John Maxwell let us examine the facts from reputable experts on the subject.
Access to electricity has a positive effect on the health and well-being of people world-wide. However, the use of coal to generate energy has negative health consequences. There is growing body evidence collated by well respected scientist of coal’s negative impact on human health during every stage of its use for electricity generation — from mining to post-combustion disposal. In particular, the burning of coal has been well-studied, with compelling evidence of the pervasive 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, reduced growth of the foetus before birth, and can cause cancer. Coal used for generating electricity, creates pollutants in outdoor air that are known to cause respiratory ailments and cancer. Additionally, coal combustion contributes to climate change, which in turn can harm human health on a global scale.
According to the Health Care Research Collaborative: people, who live In the vicinity of coal fired power plants, have a massive exposure to emissions. This depends on factors such as weather (temperature, precipitation, wind-direction and speed) and topographical features of the local area. Coal emissions by their account can also be transported long distances, even globally, causing health effects to those living far from power plants. Individual susceptibility to the health effects of coal emissions depends on age, underlying medical conditions, and use of medications. Populations that are especially vulnerable to health effects from air pollution include children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with lung conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
A 2007 article published in the medical journal, The Lancet, summarizes the burden of the health effects of generating electricity from coal and lignite (a type of coal). The authors estimate that for every TWH(Terawatt-hour) of electricity produced from coal in Europe, there are 24.5 deaths, 225 serious illnesses including hospital admission, congestive heart failure and chronic bronchitis, and 13,288 minor illnesses.(7) When lignite, the softest and most polluting form of coal, is used, each TWH of electricity produced results in 32.6 deaths, 298 serious illnesses, and 17,676 minor illnesses.In addition Coal combustion in China’s power plants causes an estimated 250,000 deaths per year.
A study by Gohlke J, Thoma R, Woodward A, Campbell-Lendrum D, Pruss-Ustun A, Hales S, etal. Estimating the global public health implications of electricity and coal modelling the effect of coal use for power generation on life expectancy found that the use of coal predicted a decrease in life expectancy in countries with moderate life expectancy at the baseline year (1965) including Poland, China, Mexico, and Thailand. In India and China, years of life lost were estimated up to 2.5 years and 3.5 years, respectively.
A case study of air pollution effects on the health of 480 primary school children in Cubatao, Brazil, where large quantities of mixed pollutants were emitted from 23 industries (steel mill, chemical industries, cement factory, fertilizer plants, etc.), showed that 55.3% of the children had decreases in pulmonary function. Another example of health effects of air pollution appeared in the Ulsan/Onsan special industrial zone, Republic of Korea, where many large-scale plants (mainly petrochemical plants and metal refineries) are concentrated. Local residents complained of a variety of health problems, particularly of the nervous system disorder called “Onsan Disease”.
The Right to Economic development in Jamaica should not come at the expense of our physical health nor as a burden to the environment. I can understand the urgency to meet the IMF and World Bank growth forecast but it should not come with increased hospital bed spaces, increased graves spaces in cemeteries and large bulge at the pockets of inept “lickey lickey “lobbyists. Let’s find other ways of growing the economy without increasing the mortality rate.
Donovan Reynolds is a Blogger and Independent Writer. He is a British based Social Worker and Human Rights Activist. He has an interest in Politics, Culture, Human Rights and International Development issues. Readers of this blog may add their comments or critique at the space provided on this blog .Or alternatively they may e-mail him at email@example.com/ or dannygerm@twitter