At a local level, coal is a health hazard at every stage of the lifecycle; from exploration, extraction, processing, transport and combustion. Burning coal releases mercury, lead, chromium, carbon monoxide, arsenic, sulphuric acid and fine particulates all of which are known carcinogens. The most harmful pollutants are the smallest particles (PM 2.5), which are inhaled deep into the lungs and cause inflammation. Large amounts of these particulates are produced in mining and power generation and when inhaled can lead to heart disease, lung cancer, asthma and stroke.
The annual health costs from coal-fired power station local air emissions excluding greenhouse gases have been estimated to be $2.6 billion in Australia, according to a 2009 report from the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.
Despite a wealth of knowledge about the health effects of coal, governments continue to approve new coal mine developments and coal-fired power stations in residential areas.
For more information, see the Doctors for the Environment Australia report, The Health Factor: Ignored by industry, overlooked by government.
Josh Fox does a follow-up documentary to his hit Gasland about the propaganda and misinformation that the hydraulic fracking industry puts out. He refutes the claims by the industry that fracking is clean and safe.