An Italian judge has ordered police seize and close down a coal-fired plant in Savona, after ruling in favour of prosecution arguments that it is responsible for 442 premature deaths and up to 2,000 cases of heart and lung disease.
The decision recognises a causal link between emissions, death and diseases, which is increasingly understood globally.
According to the prosecutor, the fumes of the plant are also behind the hospitalisation of 450 children for respiratory diseases and asthma attacks between 2005 and 2012.
The owner of the plant, Tirreno Power, which is controlled by France’s GDF Suez, was deemed to have exhibited “negligent behaviour” by the judge, who also said the emissions data from the plant was “unreliable”.
The judge’s order recognises a causal link between emissions, death and diseases. GDF Suez plant owner claims that it does not “understand the rationale for this decision”, arguing that it always complied with legal obligations.
The Italian plant is not the only coal health-headache for French energy giant GDF Suez, which is also intimately linked with a disastrous open cast coal mine fire in Australia.
The fire at the Morwell coal mine, adjacent to the Hazelwood lignite plant in Victoria, Australia, burned for over a month and has caused serious health risks for residents in a nearby town.
Worse still, cost cutting by the company and its failure to rehabilitate the mine site appear to be among the main causes of the fire and resulting public health crisis.
Professor Tim Flannery, climate scientist said:
Do the companies running these operations know the health risks? If they do, then they should share them. If not, then why not? Other important questions have not been answered. Why did the fire take hold? Did GDF Suez properly clean up the mine site? The core of our concern is that this is a widespread risk that is unacknowledged in the community, but without data on other coalmines we’re just in the dark.
One expert has described the situation as a wake up call to the coal industry for leaving abandoned mines uncovered and exposed to air.
The more we learn about the health impacts of coal the more we understand about the true cost of dirty coal.
A recent report by a the EU NGO Health and Environmental Alliance (HEAL) revealed that emissions from coal power plants in Europe contribute significantly to the burden of disease from environmental pollution.
More than 18,200 premature deaths, around 8,500 new cases of chronic bronchitis, and over 4 million lost working days each year can be attributed to emissions from coal power plants, according to the study.
This adds up to economic costs of up to €42.8 billion per year.
Clean energy is increasingly becoming the safer bet for investors, as renewables become cost competitive with dirty coal.