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Burning coal in power plants in Poland results in health costs of PLN 12.5 to 34.4 billion (€3 to 8.2 billion) every year, according to a study presented in Warsaw today by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), a non-profit alliance of organisations from the health and medical sector.

  • The new study links air pollution from power plants burning coal and lignite with chronic illness and premature deaths in Poland.
  • Health groups warn that the use of coal is harmful and increases chronic health conditions in Poland, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
  • Higher rates of disease produce substantial health costs, which are paid by patients, the national health system, and the economy at large
  • Health experts want to initiate a debate about health costs of energy use in Poland and the EU, due to the high prevalence of chronic diseases

The report “Niepłacony rachunek – Jak energetyka węglowa niszczy nasze zdrowie” (The unpaid health bill: how coal power plants make us sick) shows the scientific evidence that air pollution is an important risk factor for health. Air pollution worsens chronic respiratory and cardiovascular disease and also leads to higher mortality from these diseases. The costs of the associated health burden are startlingly high – equivalent to approximately 30% of average EU funding to Poland.

The scientific evidence that air pollution causes disease is no longer in doubt, according to Dr Michal Krzyzanowski, an epidemiologist working until recently at World Health Organization. He says: “Circulatory and respiratory diseases associated with exposure to air pollution lead to a reduction in life expectancy of 10 months in the Polish population. Coal combustion, both in the electric power plants and in individual households, is the single biggest source of this pollution in Poland. To protect health and the environment, energy policy must seriously consider the significant health costs resulting from the dominant role that coal plays among our current energy sources.”

Children are at higher risk

After genetic disposition, exposure to poor air quality is the biggest risk factor for chronic respiratory disease in childhood. In asthmatic children, air pollution increases the number as well as the severity of asthma attacks.


The Unpaid Health Bill report launched by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) in March 2012 provides an overview of the scientific evidence of how air pollution impacts on health and how emissions from coal power plants are implicated in this. It presents the first ever economic assessment of the health costs associated with air pollution from coal power plants in Europe as well as testimonies from leading health advocates, medical experts and policy makers on why they are concerned about coal. The report reveals that the health costs of coal-fired power stations add a financial burden to the European population of up to €42.8 billion a year.

The report spells out a set of recommendations for policy-makers and the health community on how to address the resulting unpaid health bill and ensure that it is taken into account in future energy decisions.

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