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New materials on the health threats from coal power generation

Two new HEAL publications further demonstrate how coal power generation threatens health and well-being in the European region. The briefings look at public financing for coal power generation in Poland, and the threat of rising mercury exposure in the Western Balkans.

Poland: High health costs from public financing for coal power

A new briefing on subsidies for coal power generation in Poland– a current and future health threat, showcases how public financing for coal power generation contributes to rates of heart and lung disease and impacts on children’s health. The Polish power sector is largely dependent on coal, with 85 percent of electricity generated from this fossil fuel source. Coal power plants emit large amounts of hazardous air pollutants – fine particles, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, and contribute as well to the formation of secondary particulate matter pollution.

Following the approach of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which considers the health costs of coal power generation as indirect subsidies, HEAL estimates that coal power generation in Poland is subsidised with 4.2 – 9.3 billion EUR each year. In comparison, public financing for hospitals in Poland only amounts to 6.69 billion EUR a year. This is the first ever comparison of subsidies for energy generation and healthcare.

A particularly harmful case of partly public-financing is a plan to build a 500 MW coal-fired power plant in Leczna, in the region of Lublin on Poland’s Eastern border. This region is abundant in green fields and has good air quality. Together with the French company ENGIE, the Polish company Bogdanka has applied for an environmental permit. The French state holds 33 percent of shares in ENGIE; from the Polish side shares are owned by three open pension funds.

Even if the future Leczna plant would use the newest filter technology, it would contribute to air pollution in the region.

Brand new calculations from HEAL show that the plant would generate health costs of 875.000 – 2.8 million EUR a year in the Lublin region (in the vicinity of 100 km), from early death, an increase in chronic bronchitis in adults, additional cases of bronchitis in children, as well as from productivity loss. Over the average lifetime of a plant of 40 years, health costs would amount to 35 – 113 million EUR. For the whole of Poland, the health costs would be 7.5 to 24.05 million EUR per year, and 300 – 962 million EUR in 40 years. This unhealthy future has to be avoided.

The briefing is available in English and French

The full, 16 pages report in Polish can be found here.

The threat of increased mercury exposure in the Western Balkans

Earlier today, a briefing on the emerging public health threat from increasing mercury exposure in the Western Balkans was launched in Belgrade, Serbia, as part of an exchange on tackling mercury exposure in these countries.

Mercury is particularly harmful to children as it is highly toxic to the developing brain and nervous system. A recent study by one of the leading researchers, Philippe Grandjean has found that preventing exposure to methylmercury (MeHg) could save a potential of more than 600,000 IQ points annually, with a total economic benefit of up to 9 billion EUR per year.

Speaking at the event in Belgrade, Dr. Vesna Knjeginjic, the assistant minister for public health and health care programs of Serbia stated:

’’Reducing the levels of mercury in the environment leads to a decreased risk for our health, and particularly protects children who are most vulnerable to its effects. It is important to develop and implement mechanisms to better control pollution, and to ensure the greatest possible reductions of mercury emissions.’’

HEAL’s new briefing wants to draw attention to the fact that coal power plants are the number one source of mercury emissions in the EU, and the second largest source globally. With plans to more than double the coal capacity in the Western Balkans from 6.4 to 15 GW, mercury exposure is set to increase. HEAL advocates for the introduction of a moratorium on new coal projects, and a phase out of coal power generation in these countries.

Briefing available here in English and Serbian
Press release in Serbian

Last updated on 16 November 2015

About HEAL

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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