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The Problem of Coal Industry in China

The Problem of Coal Industry in China

Background

Coal is naturally located in the interior part of the earth as a compound of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. It was formed millions years ago when there was combustion of vegetation due to very high temperatures and pressure between the rocks. Compared to other fuel sources, the supply of coal is considered to be abundant and, as a result, it has often been used to provide electric energy for powering heavy machines among other industrial uses. Different countries use coal for various purposes, and this has led to increased concerns about carbon emission and global warming. One of the largest producer and consumer of coal in the world is China. Being the most populated country and also the second largest consumer of energy in the world after the United States, it is evident that there is high demand of energy to generate the trillions of watt-hours on a yearly basis.

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It is estimated that about 74% of the electricity in China is produced from coal combustion while hydroelectric power supply only accounts for 20% of the total supply while nuclear energy covers for about 4% of the total (Wei 1). Therefore, the above statistics indicates that coal is of a great significance to the country’ economic wellbeing. Additionally, despite the domestic burning of coal is prohibited, in the rural areas it is still permitted, although there have been toxicity concerns relating to arsenic poisoning, esophageal and lung cancer and skeletal fluorosis which have affected a lot of people. Compared to other countries such as the United States and Russia, China comes third in terms of total coal reserves (Wei 1). Additionally, most of the coalfields are located in the north-west region of the state, and this poses a significant threat to electricity supply of the coastal area that is heavily populated. Based on existing statistic, it is expected that the country’s coal bed will only last for the next thirty years after which major deposits would become depleted, and, unless alternatives are discovered, the state will be faced with an energy crisis. This is despite the fact that energy demand continues to rise on a yearly basis.

Problem of Coal Industry in China

From the look of things, the coal industry is not the one paying for the causes. The Chinese population and the world are paying the consequences. In China, coal has caused irreparable damage to the natural environment, the health of the people and the communities. The extent of the problem ranges from the dirtiest fuel polluting the air to the release of toxic chemicals that are a byproduct of the combustion. According to recent findings, coal-fired power plant constitutes the biggest source of man-made carbon dioxide emission and thus making the coal industry the biggest threat facing global climate with the only solution being that China must look for alternative energy sources that have less impact on the environment (Theodore and Dupont 20). Currently, it is evident that coal pollution is at its breaking point as major cities and factories have suspended some of their operations to allow the citizens to breathe clean air. China alone is said to be responsible for about 47 % of the global coal emission and this trend is expected to grow (Wei 4). The current situation is that, in some cities, people are not able to walk. The pollution caused by coal industries exceeds international safety standards by about 30 to 45 times (Kan, Chen and Hong 1). Hence, it is a very serious concern that needs to be addressed.

The use of coal in Chinese industries has caused a lot of health problems. Chinese workers are exposed to the toxic effects at the mining sites because of the cloud of dust, which, when inhaled, occasions several respiratory problems such as lung cancers that eventually lead to death. In the year 2007, for instance, it was recorded that about 1000 workers died from gas blasts (Kan Chen and Hong 2). Smaller coal mines are known to cause the majority of the deaths. This has necessitated the government to ban opening new coal mines to reduce the number of deaths. Additionally, major cities in China are now covered with smoke or smog, and this has significantly contributed to poor vision. Other health problems entailed by the coal industry in China are that it has caused cardiovascular problems which if not managed in time often lead to conditions such as high arterial blood pressure and body’s deprivation of oxygen which, in turn, occasion such conditions as heart failure, asthma and, finally, death. Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases are also linked to increased exposure to the fine particulates in China. Mercury, which is a by-product of coal, is very toxic to the nervous system (Jiang, Shi and Feng 2).

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Coal causes a lot of problem to the environment. Burning of coal, for example, results in the release of ammonia, nitrates and sulphate particles. When these particles combine with rain water, they entail acid rains thus polluting the soil making it unfavorable for agriculture. Consequently, due to the high level of carbon-dioxide released following incomplete combustion of coal, the Chinese coal industries are the main causes of global warming. Carbon dioxide occasions depletion of the ozone layer that is the protective layer that protects the earth from the harmful rays of the sun. When there is no layer to offer protection from the harmful ultra violet rays, the outcome is the increased cases of conditions such as skin cancers. Additionally, coal industries in China release millions of tons of waste products and with poor disposal mechanisms most of them often end up in landfill sites or are kept in improper conditions. The wastes pose a number of threats to the environment and health of the citizens (Kan Chen and Hong 1). Coal combustion waste is the second largest concern to the Chinese government after the municipal solid waste. Rain filters through the toxic landfills and ash pits and the toxic metal wastes are finally released out into the environment.

Another major problem faced by Chinese coal industry relates to managing radioactivity effect of some of the compounds found in coal. Research has established that coal contains low levels of thorium, uranium and other types of radioactive isotopes (Jin et al. 1). When these radioactive compounds are released into the environment, they cause radioactive contamination. The coal industries release radiation in the form of fly ash. People living close to the industrial objects are therefore at higher risk of inhaling or ingesting these ashes. According to a report of the United Nations Organization, it was discovered that coal plants carry more radioactive waste than a normal nuclear operation plant (Wang and Mauzerall 1). Additionally, it is known that when coal burns, the element infiltrates the food chain and can have very dangerous effect when consumed by young infants, pregnant women and people with immunosuppressed systems. The coal industries are also faced with the challenge of deforestation. It is the cutting down of trees that leads to forest destruction. Mountaintop mining resulted in significant destruction of forest cover. The result of this is the imbalance in the ecosystem.

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Thermal pollution from the coal plants is another major concern for the industries in China. It has resulted in the degradation of water quality because when water that has been used as a coolant is introduced into the natural environment at a high temperature, there is a change in temperature, and this affects aquatic organisms. It is known that increase in temperatures influences the solubility of oxygen in the water. When water temperatures are raised above normal, aerobic organisms that depend on oxygen suffocate and die. This also causes an imbalance in the ecosystem and is likely to affect people who depend on water for economic activities such as fishing. Additionally, the death of organism increases decomposition rates of bacteria and fungi thus leading to the growth of water plants such as hyacinth among others that are known to hinder navigation processes in the rivers and lakes.

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Another problem of the coal industry in China is related to the acid mine drainage (ADM) which is the outflow of acidic water from the mines. Research has established that because some of the abandoned mines usually have rocks containing the sulphur-bearing mineral pyrite exposed, they often react with air and water to form very toxic compounds such as sulphuric acid and dissolved iron (Wang and Mauzerall 2). When water washes away these substances, they form dilute acids that can eventually find a way to the nearby streams and rivers. In China, there have also been cases of coal fires in both the abandoned and the waste piles. During the process of coal transportation from the mining sites to the industries, there are also significant instances of pollution when coal fell from the trucks and was disintegrated with other soil components. It is, therefore, evident that, compared to benefits of coal, its damages far outweigh the advantages and it should, therefore, be abandoned and alternative energies such as nuclear and hydroelectric should be adapted. The existing trends indicate that the situation is worsening with cases of health problems and pollution being just a few of the major concerns that need to be addressed.

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