The Chronic Coal Pollution Turkey report reveals the burden on the domestic healthcare system and abroad from toxic emissions of the country’s coal-fired power plants. Air pollution that they cause kills almost 5,000 people and leads to 3,000 preterm births every year, while almost half of the EUR 10.9 billion in related healthcare expenditure is registered in the surrounding region.
Turkey is pushing ahead with plans to more than double its coal power capacity despite major health impacts and costs. In an analysis by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) for 2019, the sum was estimated to be as high as EUR 10.9 billion, of which almost one half was abroad.
The healthcare costs of coal power generation in Turkey alone come in at as much as EUR 5.88 billion per year or 27% of the country’s total bill.
HEAL and seven Turkish medical organisations call for a coal phaseout as an essential step to protect people’s health, achieving cleaner air and tackling climate change. According to the Chronic Coal Pollution Turkey report, the 28 coal plants with a capacity of over 100 MW that were operating in 2019 caused a significant health burden.
Coal power plants in Turkey are responsible for 26,500 cases of bronchitis in children and 1.48 million lost working days on an annual scale
The tally was almost 5,000 premature deaths, 26,500 cases of bronchitis in children and more than 3,000 preterm births. The researchers calculated there were 237,000 additional days of asthma and bronchitis symptoms in asthmatic children, 1.48 million lost working days and 11.3 million sickness days in total.
Mercury is among most dangerous pollutants
Air pollution from the coal industry leads to heart and lung disease and increases the risk for many other diseases. The said thermal power plant fleet generated 37% of Turkey’s electricity in 2019, while one more unit was active last year.
The document details numbers on health impacts and costs of exposure to mercury, given that coal plants are a top emission source. The pollutant may reduce children’s intelligence quotient – IQ, and consequently decrease their educational and working achievements over a lifetime.
Coal combustion is the second largest anthropogenic source of mercury emissions in the world. In the report, the metal is highlighted as one of the four main pollutants, alongside particulate matter or PM, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides, jointly known as NOx.
Those most vulnerable are at biggest risk
“Pollution from coal power plants puts everyone at risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer as well as acute respiratory infections. But it particularly affects those most vulnerable – pregnant women, children, the elderly, those already ill or poor,” HEAL’s Director for Strategy and Campaigns Anne Stauffer stated.
The report highlights the lack of transparency in emissions data
The health and climate toll of emissions from coal-fired power stations are currently not considered in the country’s energy policy-making processes. Health costs in Turkey and the countries affected by its coal-fired thermal power plants may be substantially larger than EUR 10.9 billion if the effect of climate change is considered. The sector is a major contributor to CO2 emissions, which fuel global warming.
The authors point to the lack of transparency in emissions data as the government publishes information only on overall electricity generation and the heating sector. Furthermore, the numbers for individual coal plants are not publicly available.
Healthcare factor must be included in policy change
“Health and medical organisations have to engage more in economic and public health debates on the health impacts and costs of coal and energy production, and health ministries and health actors should have a place at the table in energy, climate, and clean air decisions,” said Melike Yavuz from the Association of Public Health Specialists in Turkey (Hasuder).
Thirty coal power plant projects are in development, totalling 33 GW in capacity, which compares to the current 19 GW active in Turkey. The planned expansion is concentrated on Çanakkale, Adana and Hatay, Muğla, and Eskişehir.
“New coal power plant projects have to be abandoned swiftly, and a coal phaseout planned, as part of a commitment to preventing disease and future pandemics. Moving towards healthy energy is also a necessity if we are to limit the worst health impacts from climate change”, said Funda Gacal, HEAL’s consultant on energy and health for Turkey.