Over the past few years, we in Alberta have been barraged by claims of the supposed need to phase-out coal-burning facilities to address harmful impacts, with the demands led by the Pembina Institute and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
The provincial government is trying to convince us, too, stating on its website that “an accelerated Alberta coal phase out will prevent 600 premature deaths, 500 emergency room visits, and will avoid nearly $3 billion in negative health outcomes.” Three-billion dollars in health savings seems like a pretty tall tale to me. If you are skeptical of these claims, welcome to the club.
There are recent published studies that can be used to fact check some of these claims. These studies looked at sources of air pollution in Alberta cities that happen to have coal-burning facilities nearby. One study looked at sources of supposedly harmful submicron particle (PM1) pollution in Edmonton.
Coal-burning emissions did not stand out as an important source of this pollution. Rather, the leading sources were related to several industrial activities that emit sulfur in the province (largely related to oil and gas).
Another study looked at fine particle (PM2.5) pollution in Edmonton. The important sources here were traffic and the same sort of sulfur-emitting industrial activities that showed up in the first study. Coal burning again did not stand out. In fact, further analysis showed that coal burning was only linked with low PM2.5 levels in Edmonton.
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