Emissions from Coal Combustion

Coal combustion produces large quantities of products that may be released into the atmosphere. The emissions are largely steam (i.e., water vapor), which is what is most often observed coming from the stack of a power plant, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen from the air and do not present any direct health hazard. However, the emissions do contain small concentrations of atmospheric pollutants, which translate into large quantities emitted due to the vast amount of coal consumed. The principal pollutants that can cause health problems are sulfur and nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, trace elements (including arsenic, lead, mercury, fluorine, selenium, and radionuclides), and organic compounds. The environmental impacts and health effects of these pollutants, along with carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, are discussed here.

The definition of air pollution is the addition to the atmosphere of any material that may have a deleterious effect on life [27]. Air pollution is produced by natural processes or by anthropogenic, or manmade, actions. The legal definition of an air pollutant is any air pollution agent or combination of such agents, including any physical, chemical, biological, or radioactive substance, or matter that is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air [27]. These agents include primary and secondary pollutants, which are classifications that indicate how the various pollutants are formed. Primary pollutants have the same state and chemical composition in the ambient atmosphere as when emitted from sources, but secondary pollutants have changed in form after leaving the source due to oxidation, decay, or reaction with other primary pollutants.

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