Uncontrolled release of pollutants from burning coal beds and waste banks presents potential environmental and human health hazards. On a global scale, the emissions of large volumes of greenhouse gases from burning coal beds may contribute to climate change that alters ecosystems and patterns of disease occurrence. On regional and local scales, the emissions from burning coal beds and waste banks of acidic gases, particulates, organic compounds, and trace elements can contribute to a range of respiratory and other human health problems. Although there are few published reports of health problems caused by these emissions, the potential for problems can be significant. In India, large numbers of people have been displaced from their homes because of health problems caused by emissions from burning coal beds. Volatile elements such as arsenic, fluorine, mercury, and selenium are commonly enriched in coal deposits. Burning coal beds can volatilize these elements, which then can be inhaled, or adsorbed on crops and foods, taken up by livestock or bioaccumulated in birds and fish. Some of these elements can condense on dust particles that can be inhaled or ingested. In addition, selenium, arsenic, lead, tin, bismuth, fluorine, and other elements condense where the hot gaseous emissions come in contact with ambient air, forming mats of concentrated efflorescent minerals on the surface of the ground. These mats can be leached by rainwater and washed into local water bodies providing other potential routes of exposure. Although there are little data linking burning coal beds and waste banks to known health problems, a possibly analogous situation exists in rural China where mineralized coal burned in a residential environment has caused widespread and severe health problems such as fluorosis and arseniasis. ?? 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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Potential health impacts of burning coal beds and waste banks