|Burning coal produces smog and harms our health
The Ontario Medical Association estimates that air pollution costs Ontario more than $10 billion per year in health care costs, lost work time and other quantifiable expenses, as well as killing an estimated 2,000 Ontarians each year. The OMA has declared air pollution "a public health crisis" in Ontario. Coal-fired power plants (click here to see a map of Ontario's five stations) are the single largest industrial contributors to this crisis. Coal-fired power plants are major producers of:
- Nitrogen oxides, which combine with other pollutants to form ground-level ozone, one of the most noxious parts of the smog brew.
- Sulphur dioxide, which contributes to the yellow haze that hangs over Southern Ontario and is a major factor in causing acid-rain damage to our lakes, rivers and forests.
- Mercury, which can in even tiny amounts have a devastating impact on the human nervous system, especially for children and the unborn. Exposure to mercury can cause brain and kidney damage and even death. Mercury exposure has also been linked to impairment of children's reasoning skills.
- Lead, which is also particularly harmful to children and can cause brain damage, impair growth, damage kidneys and cause learning and behavioral problems.
- Heavy metals, including cadmium and chromium, which are known cancer-causing toxins.
The Nanticoke coal-fired electricity generating station on Lake Erie is Canada's single largest source of air pollution. This gigantic coal-fired power plant -- the largest in North America -- produces a toxic brew of pollutants, including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, lead, cancerous heavy metals and arsenic. (Nanticoke is owned by Ontario Power Generation -- formerly Ontario Hydro -- which, in turn, is 100% owned by the Government of Ontario.)
The pollution coming out of Nanticoke's giant smokestacks is the equivalent of the pollution produced by 3.3 million cars. Its emissions contribute not only to the choking smog that lies over Southern Ontario every summer, but also to the potentially devastating impacts of global climate change and to the well-known problems caused by acid rain.
By switching to a supplier of cleaner electricity or by purchasing at least some green power -- electricity produced with fewer or no emissions of harmful substances -- you encourage suppliers of "green" power to increase their capacity and you reduce the demand for other sources, such as dirty coal power. When you switch to a green power source, you won't be directly connected to the green-power supplier. Instead, that supplier will send enough electricity to meet your needs into the provincial power grid, thereby displacing electricity from other sources, like coal-fired power plants. More info on current green power suppliers.
Cleaner sources of electricity:
- Wind power -- zero air emissions
- Solar photovoltaic -- zero air emissions
- Hydro -- zero air emissions (can have other impacts)
- Landfill gas/bio-gas (e.g. from municipal composting facility) -- varies depending on technology and source
- Natural gas --The smog-causing sulphur dioxide emissions of a modern high-efficiency natural gas power plant are 99% less than those from existing coal-fired plants. Emissions of nitrogen oxides (also a source of smog) are 90% less and emissions of greenhouse gases are 60% less. Gas-fired plants emit no mercury, lead or heavy metals, all of which are emitted by coal-fired power plants.
When selecting a supplier of cleaner power, make sure to get good information about power sources, including whether they are certified under the Environmental Choice (EcoLogo) program.
> Click here to calculate your impact on air quality.
> Click here to see a map of Ontario's coal-fired power plants.