Phasing out coal could prevent over 1,000 premature deaths, says report

Coal being phased out by 2030 will produce significant benefits, such as reducing premature death and hospital visits, according to a report from the Pembina Institute and various organizations.

Phasing out coal is smart for environment, economy, health says Ryan Meili

Meili says moving away from coal is a wise move economically, environmentally and in terms of health. (CBC)

Phasing out coal by 2030 could prevent more than 1,000 premature deaths, reduce hundreds of emergency room visits and produce billions of dollars worth of health benefits between 2015 and 2035, says the Pembina Institute. 

Nearly 90 per cent of these benefits would happen in Alberta and Saskatchewan, according to the institute's report Out with the Coal, In with the New.

The report was commissioned with multiple health and environmental organizations and was released on Monday — the same day the federal government announced it was accelerating a phase-out of coal power in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The report drew the ire of Premier Brad Wall, who has stood opposed to the carbon tax initiative announced last month.

Wall has championed the carbon capture method and said the federal government has violated commitments to work with the provinces to develop a pan-Canadian plan. 

Benefits of coal-free living

Dr. Ryan Meili spoke out in favour of the phase-out, saying burning coal causes health problems in three ways: air pollution, mercury exposure and climate change.

Meili said breathing in pollutants and particulate matter could result in asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and other lung problems and illnesses.

He said mercury can hinder the development of the brain and cause cognitive problems. 

"In the long run, it is a wiser choice economically, environmentally and from a health point of view to not use coal to make electricity," Meili said. 

There is more opportunity in the shift to clean energy than the current model, he said.

"There are lots of ways in which continuing to be stuck on this path of producing electricity through coal puts us at risk of greater economic problems," Meili said.

"By closing these plants, we will save lives, prevent chronic heart and lung diseases, make breathing easier for those with asthma, while saving health care costs by reducing emergency room visits and hospital admissions," said Kim Perrotta, executive director of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment in a press release. 

With files from Nahlia Bendali Amor