Three Health Reasons to Close Coal Plants!


Photo: Ontario Power Generation, Demolition of Lakeview Generating Station, Ontario

Working in collaboration with 15 health organizations from across Canada, CAPE made a formal submission to one of the four Federal/Provincial Working Groups that is collecting ideas to create the Climate Action Plan that will meet Canada’s obligations to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. 

The submission, co-signed by organizations such as Heart and Stroke Foundation, The Canadian Lung Association, the Asthma Society of Canada, and the Canadian Public Health Association, calls for the closure of all coal-fired power plants in Canada by 2025.  Our reasons are three-fold:

  1. The closure of coal-fired power plants globally is essential to the slowing of climate change;

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared climate change to be “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century” (WHO, 2016).  It has estimated that, between 2030 and 2050, climate change will produce at least 250,000 additional deaths each year: 38,000 due to heat exposure among elderly people; 48,000 due to diarrhoea; 60,000 due to malaria; and 95 000 due to childhood under-nutrition (WHO 2014a). 

Coal-fired power plants are one of the most significant emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) on a global scale.  They are responsible 43% of greenhouse gases from all energy-related activities (IEA, 2015).  The International Energy Agency has identified the closure of coal-fired power plants as one of the five climate policies essential to international success on climate change (IEA, 2015).

Before 2005, coal-fired power plants were responsible for about 15% of Canada’s greenhouse gases (NIR, 2014).  By phasing out is six coal-fired power plants, Ontario has reduced Canada’s GHG emissions by about 7%.  In 2014, coal-fired power plants in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were still responsible for were responsible for about 8.5% of all GHG emissions in Canada (NIR, 2014).  In order for Canada to effectively advocate for their closure globally, it must demonstrate leadership at home. 

  1. The closure of Canada’s coal-fired power plants will prevent heart and lung diseases, premature deaths, hospital admissions, and emergency room visits in Canada; 

Coal-fired power plants release large volumes of air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter that have been clearly and consistently linked to increased rates of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including lung cancer, and increased rates of asthma symptoms, respiratory infections, emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and premature deaths (WHO, 2013). 

In 2005, Ontario’s six coal plants were estimated to be responsible for more than 600 premature deaths, 900 hospital admissions, and 1000 emergency room visits in Ontario each year (OMOE, 2005).  These health impacts were valued at $4.4 billion per year (OMOE, 2005).  In 2013, the six coal-fired power plants in Alberta were estimated to be responsible for approximately 100 premature deaths, 80 hospital admissions, 700 emergency room visits, and 4,800 asthma symptom days.  These health impacts have been valued at approximately $300 million per year or $3 billion over a 10-year period (Pembina 2013).

Coal-fired power plants are one of the most significant sources of sulphur dioxide which is a precursor of fine particulate matter.  In 2014, with 736 emitters of sulphur dioxide in Canada, 12 of the top 25 emitters were coal-fired power plants; five in Alberta, three in Saskatchewan, three in Nova Scotia, and one in New Brunswick (ECCC, 2014a).

  1. The closure of Canada’s coal-fired power plants will help protect the mental capacity of our children from mercury.

By closing the remaining coal-fired power plants in Canada, we can help protect the cognitive development of our children, reduce health and social service expenses associated with neuro-developmental health impacts, and reclaim fish as a high-quality protein source that is available as a traditional food source or economic resource. 

Coal-fired power plants are a major source of mercury; a persistent toxic substance that accumulates in the aquatic food chain (CCME, 2005). Prenatal and early life exposure to mercury, resulting from the consumption of mercury-contaminated fish, has been linked to adverse developmental impacts such as reductions in cognitive abilities and motor skills (CCME, 2005).  Researchers have attributed 3.2% of intellectual disability cases in the United States to mercury exposure and valued these excess cases at $2.0 billion per year (Trasande et al., 2006).  Women of childbearing age, pregnant women, children, and populations that depend on fish as a traditional food source, are at greatest risk from mercury (CCME, 2005).

In 2014, nearly 2,400 kilograms of mercury were emitted into the air from 269 sources across Canada (ECCC, 2014).  Coal-fired power plants were the single largest source of those emissions; responsible for nearly 35% of mercury emissions nationally (ECCC, 2014).  Two of the plants operating in Saskatchewan were the two highest emitters in the country; responsible for approximately 16% of all mercury released across Canada (ECCC, 2014).

The submission from CAPE and its partners can be viewed here. 

The press release is available here.

Reposted from the CAPE website with permission.  Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE (


  • Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME). 2005. Canada-Wide Standards for Mercury Emissions from Coal-Fired Electric Power Generation Plants (2006).
  • Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC). 2014. NPRI Data: Mercury. NPRI-Mercury-2014
  • Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC). 2014a. NPRI Data: Sulphur Dioxide. NPRI-Sulphur Dioxide-2014
  • International Energy Agency (IEA). 2015. Energy ad Climate Change.  IEA-Climate Change 2015
  • National Inventory Report (NIR). 2014. Table A13-1 of Part 3.  UNFCCC Inventories 2014
  • Ontario Ministry of Energy (OMOE). Cost Benefit Analysis: Replacing Ontario’s Coal-Fired Electricity Generation. Prepared by DSS Management Consultants Inc. RWDI Air Inc. April, 2005
  • Pembina Institute, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Asthma Society of Canada and The Lung Association Alberta and NWT (Pembina). 2013. A Costly Diagnosis: Subsidizing coal power with Albertans’ health.
  • L, C Schechter, K.A. Haynes, P.J. Landrigan. 2006.. Mental retardation and prenatal methylmercury toxicity. Am J Ind Med. 2006 Mar;49(3):153-8.
  • World Health Organization (WHO). 2013. Review of evidence on health aspects of air pollution – REVIHAAP Project.
  • World Health Organization (WHO). 2014a. Quantitative risk assessment of the effects of climate change on selected causes of death, 2030s and 2050s.
  • World Health Organization (WHO). 2016. WHO Director-General Keynote address at the Human Rights Council panel discussion on climate change and the right to health.