POSTSCRIPT / July 25, 2002 / Thursday
 
Why is gov’t allowing mass poisoning by coal?
By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

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NOT IGNORANCE, BUT GREED: Except for those who have been direct and immediate victims of deadly emissions from coal-fired engines, most Filipinos have not sufficiently waken up to the hazards of coal as a fuel.

In the case of government officials and businessmen who still use or tolerate the use of coal, it seems to us that the reason is not ignorance but greed.

Operators of coal-fired power plants, for instance, may hesitate to shift to safer fuels because that would mean more expenses and less profits. In the case of officials, particularly those who benefit from the procurement of coal (See Postscript, 23July02), they are unwilling to give up their easy source of dirty millions.

Our fair country has become the innocent dumping ground of deadly coal-fired power plants rejected by more enlightened societies abroad.

As we postpone the mothballing or retooling of inefficient and highly polluting coal plants in the National Power Corp. system, entire communities are slowly being poisoned without government lifting a finger to save them from slow death.

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LURKING KILLER: Feeling the urgency of cleaning the environment and saving generations of Filipinos, we asked Red Constantino, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Southeast Asia, to help explain how the silent killer works. He emailed us this piece (please read all the way down):

COAL remains the most carbon intensive of all fossil fuels, emitting 29 percent more carbon per unit of energy than oil and 80 percent more than gas. Coal-burning is a leading contributor to dangerous climate change and global warming.

The 1200-megawatt power plant of Sual, Pangasinan, for instance, will produce during its 25-year contract 238.4 million metric tons of carbon, equivalent to more than 575.6 billion jeepneys simultaneously starting and traveling for a kilometer (2 pounds of carbon is produced on average per kilowatt used).

The pollution that the Sual plant will produce is absolutely mind-boggling. It is one of the five IPPs (independent power producers) identified by the government as possessing the most significantly onerous power contracts.

It was built through the backing of public money from the United Kingdom, the United States and France. The UK provided over £433 million to the British-French fossil firm Alstom Power to build Sual. Amazingly, the last time a coal plant was built in the UK was in 1972, when DOnny Osmond was still in the music charts!

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CONTAMINATED FLY ASH: Burning coal for energy produces tremendous amounts of toxic wastes that, over time, decimate the communities where these coal plants are built.

Based on findings of the Greenpeace Research Laboratories in the University of Exeter of the UK, fly ash samples taken in March and April this year from the coal plants of Sual (Mirant of jellyfish choking fame), Mauban in Quezon (QPL) and Masinloc in Zambales (Napocor), showed alarming levels of mercury — even higher than those detected in Calaca, Batangas.

The carcinogen arsenic was also detected along with other heavy metals such as lead and chromium, reaffirming the long-held contention of environmentalists all over the world that there is no such thing as clean coal.

The Exeter laboratory analysis showed that “other than mercury, which almost exclusively escapes pollution control devices, the quantities of (the) toxic elements produced in the fly ash are in the order of tons or tens of tons per year from each plant.”

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NEUROTOXIN MERCURY: In August 2001, Greenpeace issued a report warning the public about the mercury emissions of coal plants, based on fly ash samples taken from the 600-MW coal-fired power plant of Calaca.

Mercury was detected in at least four fly ash samples that Greenpeace sent for testing to a commercial laboratory. Mercury is a neurotoxin so deadly that it only takes 1/70th of a teaspoon to contaminate a 10.11-hectare lake to the point that fish caught in the lake are considered unfit for human consumption.

According to the US National Wildlife Federation (NWF), a typical 100-MW coal plant produces a minimum of 25 pounds of mercury per year. Given this, it is really hard to imagine the amount of neurotoxins that the 1200-MW Sual coal plant produces year-round.

Greenpeace challenged the Philippine government to conduct its own testing after the government in September 2001 disputed the Greenpeace findings regarding the presence of mercury in the power station’s emissions. The government took up the challenge and conducted even more extensive tests.

The test results of the government were unequivocal: Mercury was detected in all of the government sampling stations in amounts way higher than those detected by Greenpeace.

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EFFECTS OF TRACE ELEMENTS: What are the other effects of the trace elements lead, chromium and arsenic that were detected in the waste stream of Philippine coal plants?

Here’s a brief rundown: The toxic effects of lead are the same whether it is ingested or inhaled, and its impacts range from nervous system disorders, anemia, cardiovascular disease, to disorders in bone metabolism, renal function and reproduction. Of special concern is the impact of relatively low lead exposure on the cognitive and behavioral development in children.

The samples from all three coal plants contained chromium with the sample from the Mauban plant of QPL being the most contaminated. It is a fact that coal plants are a recognized source of chromium in the environment.

One form of this metal, hexavalent chromium (VI), has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a carcinogen. While this study did not determine the amount of hexavalent chromium present, similar studies have shown significant amounts of chromium in fly ash to be present in the hexavalent form.

Arsenic is a trace contaminant of coal. Due to the large amounts of coal burned, coal burning produces the largest quantity of arsenic waste of any industry. Arsenic is released to the atmosphere through the smokestack as well as through fly ash and bottom ash deposited in landfills.

Coal plants are believed to be responsible for the widespread contamination and increasing arsenic concentrations found in rivers of the US.

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CLEAN ENERGY DRIVE: Despite the propaganda pushing the term “clean coal,” the fact is that there is no such thing as clean coal.

A consultant for the Clean Coal Technology program sponsored by the US Department of Energy (US DOE) acknowledged that, “To my knowledge, there is no commercially available method to remove mercury or carbon dioxide (from the waste streams).” (Those interested can look up the article “Scrubbing up” from NewScientist [visit http://www.newscientist.com], May 22, 2001).

Instead of heeding the lessons in other countries about the toll from coal burning, our government would rather build more polluting coal plants.Sayang. The wind potential of the country, if only the government develops it as aggressively as it promotes dirty coal, is capable of supplying over seven times the country’s current energy demand.

The fight for clean energy is a campaign that is global. Fossil fuel burning is creating a problem of global proportions. In fact, climate change today is considered a threat to the planet that is second only to nuclear war.

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GLOBAL WARMING: While developed countries must take the lead in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions (since the great majority of greenhouse gas emissions emanate from them), the developing world must also do its share.

The impacts of global warming according to the scientific community have serious consequences on the health of our economy and the environment — rising seas, increased risk of flooding, increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, the spread of diseases such as malaria borne by insects that thrive in warm temperatures….

According to the UN, global warming will increase the disparity in income and wealth between the industrialized world and the developing countries, and that the effects will be severe in terms of loss of life and investments.

We must begin to phase-out coal-fired power plants, not tomorrow, but today, and replace them with energy straight from the Creator — renewable energy from the sun, the wind and modern biomass, among other sources. (end of Constantino piece)

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