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Cough4coal – HEAL’s work inspires creative action in Berlin and Warsaw

An eight metre tall set of inflatable pink lungs were recently created by artist Artur van Balen as a tool for the international Cough4Coal campaign, which made an appearance outside the World Coal Association Summit in Warsaw, where medical students, NGOs and the general public public joined the ‘people before coal’ protect. HEAL had provided expertise on the health impacts of coal during the development phase of the campaign.


The inflatable lungs which made a debut appearance earlier in the year in Berlin at a coal industry conference, re-appeared in Warsaw where the highly controversial Coal and Climate Summit organised by the World Coal Association was taking place in collaboration with the official COP19 organisers.

Journalists and conference participants arriving at the Polish Ministry of Economy early on 18 November were surprised by a colourful scene: an oversized pair of pink lungs inflating in front of the ministry building; people dressed up as industry lobbyists throwing black confetti, or as medical doctors examining patients gathered around the lungs.

A large group of Polish as well as international supporters of the Cough4coal campaign was performing three ‘living paintings’ about the coal industry’s false promise of clean coal. Medical students were in the front row of people holding the lungs up high, and later showed in a passionate speech that doctors can play an important role in protecting people’s health from coal pollution, and in raising awareness about the health risks associated with coal burning.

Participants coming to the action from a coal mining region in Poland showed that they are willing to resist the influence and promises of the coal industry, as their homeland and the future of their children are priceless for them.

HEAL’s Unpaid Health Bill postcard was given out in Polish and English as well as a leaflet with scientific background information on why there is no such thing as clean coal which also featured an info-graphic HEAL’s report.

Press conference

Following the action, a successful press conference took place with extensive media coverage. Dr Piotr Dabrowiecki from the Polish Federation of Asthma, Allergy and COPD Patients’ Organisations, a member of the European Federation of Asthma and Airways Diseases Patients Association EFA (EFA is a HEAL member) highlighted the health impacts of coal-fired power generation in Poland and there is four times increase in chronic diseases if you live in Warsaw.

Media coverage

The action appeared in The Guardian, The Irish Times, National Geographic, Die Sueddeutsche, Gazeta Wyborcza and Chinese Central TV. The pink lungs, which have now travelled to Germany and Poland, will now travel around the world and play a central role in further actions of the cough4coal campaign.

The enormous number of requests for collaboration from different countries shows that health is an important argument against coal. HEAL has actively supported the development of the campaign, while HEAL’s report The Unpaid Health Bill was most likely an inspiration for the Cough4coal campaign itself. Artur van Balen is quoted in an interview that a presentation he heard about HEAL’s work on coal and health inspired him to make the lungs.

More information

  • Find an interview with medical student Isobel Braithewaite in front of the lungs in Warsaw here
  • A campaign introductory video here
  • Photos from Warsaw on our Facebook page here
  • Additional photos as well as the leaflet on the Cough4coal flickr page here

Last updated on 2 December 2013

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »


HEAL has over 70 member organisations, representing health professionals, not-for-profit health insurers, doctors, nurses, cancer and asthma groups, citizens, women’s groups, youth groups, environmental NGOs, scientists and public health institutes. Members include international and Europe-wide organisations, as well as national and local groups. Read more »

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