Is is safe to live near a coal burning plant?
This is a difficult question to answer. Coal burning in general is a dirty process, producing sulfur oxides and heavy metals in aerosol forms. The amount released by a particular site depends on the quality of coal being burned there and the extent to which emissions are filtered prior to release. At present, EPA standards for emission levels are unsatisfactorily lax, so it really depends on the individual plant to install the technology necessary to reduce emissions to acceptable levels. Other factors that largely influence your safety in living near such a plant are (a) typical wind direction (b) typical plant emission rate (c) average monthly precipitation in the area and (d) how personally sensitive your body is to minute amounts of non-toxic particulates that may also be released by the plant.
Ken Rubin, Assistant Professor
Department of Geology and Geophysics
University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI 96822