Environmental Impact – an overview

Environmental impact is defined as any change to the environment, whether adverse or beneficial, wholly or partially resulting from an organization’s activities, products, or services.

From: Subsea Pipeline Integrity and Risk Management, 2014

Related terms:

Thomas L. Neff, in The Social Costs of Solar Energy, 1981


Significant environmental impacts may result from the addition to the environment of various substances from coal combustion, nuclear plant or fuel cycle operations, and from photovoltaic manufacturing and applications. The emissions of coal plants have been studied extensively, though there is still uncertainty about the ultimate environmental fate of these emissions. According to a 1973 Battelle study,2 combustion of Eastern coal in a conventional boiler with wet limestone scrubbing results in the release of 3000 tons of particulates, 18,000 tons of nitrous oxides, 15,000 tons of sulfur oxides, and about 400 tons of hydrocarbons.* While some of the sulfur and nitrous oxides contribute to atmospheric particulate concentrations in the form of sulfates and nitrate byproducts of gaseous emissions, others increase the acidity of rainfall through the formation of nitric and sulfuric acids.

Airborne pollutants and acid rain can both affect ecosystems, to a degree and in ways which are not yet fully understood. The effect of acid rain is perhaps the most extensively documented, with strong evidence that pH reductions in soils and bodies of water are due to increased fossil fuel combustion. Sulfur dioxide appears to impede nitrogen fixation, necessary for plant growth, and to inhibit some of the processes involved in decomposition of dead organic matter. Combustion of coal—or its conversion to coke or liquid or gaseous fuels—at high temperatures (in excess of 400°C) results in the formation of potent carcinogens,3 part of the hydrocarbon or particulate release, whose environmental fate is still uncertain.

A number of heavy metals and trace elements are present in coal, as shown in table 6.1. Release fractions in combustion are uncertain and depend on plant configuration and the method and efficiency of control. Under current regulatory standards, efforts are made to restrict emissions of sulfur and particulates: perhaps 90 percent of sulfur is removed and 99 percent (by weight) of particulates. Other emissions are restricted only to the extent that controls aimed at these components also work for other coal constitutents. Some evidence of the emission rates can be derived from examination of fly ash collected from effluent gases, as shown in table 6.1. However, the volatility of some elements, such as mercury, makes such determinations incomplete.

Table 6.1. Constituents of Coal.

Constituent Mean Standard Deviation Minimum Maximum
As 14.02 ppm 17.70 0.50 93.00
B 102.21 ppm 54.65 5.00 224.00
Be 1.61 ppm 0.82 0.20 4.00
Br 15.42 ppm 5.92 4.00 52.00
Cd 2.52 ppm 7.60 0.10 65.00
Co 9.57 ppm 7.26 1.00 43.00
Cr 13.75 ppm 7.26 4.00 54.00
Cu 15.16 ppm 8.12 5.00 61.00
F 60.94 ppm 20.99 25.00 143.00
Ga 3.12 ppm 1.06 1.10 7.50
Ge 6.59 ppm 6.71 1.00 43.00
Hg 0.20 ppm 0.20 0.02 1.60
Mn 49.40 ppm 40.15 6.00 181.00
Mo 7.54 ppm 5.96 1.00 30.00
Ni 21.07 ppm 12.35 3.00 80.00
P 71.10 ppm 72.81 5.00 400.00
Pb 34.78 ppm 43.69 4.00 218.00
Sb 1.26 ppm 1.32 0.20 8.90
Se 2.08 ppm 1.10 0.45 7.70
Sn 4.79 ppm 6.15 1.00 51.00
V 32.71 ppm 12.03 11.00 78.00
Zn 272.29 ppm 694.23 6.00 5,350.00
Zr 72.46 ppm 57.78 8.00 133.00
Al 1.29% 0.45 0.43 3.04
Ca 0.77% 0.55 0.05 2.67
Cl 0.14% 0.14 0.01 0.54
Fe 1.92% 0.79 0.34 4.32
K 0.16% 0.06 0.02 0.43
Mg 0.05% 0.04 0.01 0.25
Na 0.05% 0.04 0.00 0.20
Si 2.49% 0.80 0.58 6.09
Ti 0.07% 0.02 0.02 0.15
Org. S 1.41% 0.65 0.31 3.09
Pyr. S 1.76% 0.86 0.06 3.78
Sul. S 0.10% 0.19 0.01 1.06
Tot. S 3.27% 1.35 0.42 6.47
SXRF 2.91% 1.24 0.54 5.40
ADL 7.70% 3.47 1.40 16.70
Mois. 9.05% 5.05 0.01 20.70
Vol. 39.70% 4.27 18.90 52.70
Fix. C 48.82% 4.95 34.60 65.40
Ash 11.44% 2.89 2.20 25.80
Btu 12,748.91 464.50 11,562.00 14,362.00
C 70.28% 3.87 55.23 80.14
H 4.95% 0.31 4.03 5.79
N 1.30% 0.22 0.78 1.84
O 8.68% 2.44 4.15 16.03
HTA 11.41% 2.95 3.28 25.85
LTA 15.28% 4.04 3.82 31.70

Abbreviations other than standard chemical symbols: organic sulfur (Org. S), pyritic sulfur (Pyr. S), sulfate sulfur (Sul. S), total sulfur (Tot. S) sulfur by X-ray flouroscence (SXRF), air dry loss (ADL), moisture (Mois.), volatile matter (Vol.), fixed carbon (Fix. C), high temperature ash (HTA), low temperature ash (LTA).

A very conservative basis for analysis is to assume that all metals are lost in atmospheric emissions. On this basis, annual mean-value emissions for a coal plant are: cadmium—5.8 tons; lead—80 tons; nickel—48 tons; arsenic—32 tons; vanadium—75 tons; and mercury—0.5 tons. Of course, controls (especially particulate removal) may reduce releases considerably.* The environmental fate of particular metals and metal compounds is a complicated issue, depending on chemical and physical form, resuspension rate, ion-exchange processes in soil, and so forth.

By comparison, manufacturing cadmium sulfide photovoltaic systems—using the assumptions in the preceding chapter—results in the release to the environment of up to 70 to 80 tons of cadmium per year (largely as CdO or CdS), while fires release on the order of 0.1 ton per year. Thus, manufacturing would be by far the dominant photovoltaics-related source (for present technologies) of additions of cadmium to the environment. Atmospheric arsenic emissions during manufacturing—also under the assumptions specified in chapter 5, and depending on the technology used—would total 200 to 6700 kg per year (with by far the greatest share—100–6000 kg, depending on the technology used and on the success of emission controls—resulting from As2O2 recovery from copper-smelting byproducts). Array fires might result in the release of 200 kg of arsenic per year. It can be expected that significant amounts of arsenic and cadmium will also enter the environment through waste water releases and treatment of solid wastes. All of these figures are for installations equivalent to our standard coal plant, which releases somewhat less cadmium and somewhat more arsenic than the respective photovoltaic systems but also much larger amounts of other metals and pollutants.

As noted above, it is difficult to predict how emitted materials will enter the environment and what roles they will play there. In this situation, it is useful to construct a simple worst-case model giving average additions to cadmium and arsenic background levels due to photovoltaics and to compare these additions with recently measured urban and suburban background levels. Annual average urban atmospheric concentrations of cadmium4 range from below 0.01 μg/m3 to as high as 0.036 μg/m3, while another study indicates an average deposition rate of cadmium in residential areas of 40 μg/m2/month.5

Our model for potential photovoltaic impacts due to array fires was an effectively infinite suburban neighborhood with the very high population density of 1000 residences (about 3500 people) per square mile, all powered by photovoltaic systems in which array fires occur at the rate derived above. Again assuming 10 percent release of cadmium, the average rate of release of cadmium is about 100 grams/mi2/year or 3 μg/m3/month. Since the neighborhood is assumed infinite, this is also the rate of deposition—less than 10 percent of mean deposition rates already occurring.

Our estimate is actually an upper bound since neighborhoods are not in fact infinite (that is, there will be areas with small or no cadmium emissions) and since not all electricity will be provided by photovoltaics. However, it should be noted that if the release fraction in fires should be greater than 0.1, the impact on net deposition would be correspondingly greater. It should also be noted that our comparison should not be taken to mean that current deposition rates are necessarily harmless: over a period of 100 years, about 50 mg of cadmium will be deposited per square meter at current deposition rates. The low solubility of cadmium compounds and their propensity for participating in ion-exchange reactions will result in a gradual buildup in soil; assuming a 10 cm mixing depth, the added cadmium will be of order 1 ppm, more than doubling present average concentrations. Since food is already a significant source of cadmium uptake (perhaps approaching half of that necessary to cause kidney damage over a lifetime), increases in deposition rates and soil concentration, which would increase concentrations in food, should be regarded with caution.

The higher release fraction for arsenic in array fires due to its high volatility implies proportionately larger contributions to arsenic backgrounds than in the parallel cadmium situation. According to the infinite neighborhood model above, the average rate of release of inorganic arsenic from residential fires would be about 300 grams/mi2/year, or about 10 μg/m2/month. This is also an upper bound on deposition rates; over a period of 100 years, such a deposition rate could add about 10 mg/m2. Current deposition rates do not appear to be known. However, the fact that current ambient urban concentrations are mostly below 0.001 μg/m3 suggest that deposition rates are significantly below those which could occur from photovoltaic sources. An impression of maximum average atmospheric concentration can be obtained by assuming a 100 m vertical mixing depth and three-day average residence time for house fire emissions. This yields an average concentration of 0.020 μg/m3, an order of magnitude above present levels in most areas. Soil accumulation of arsenic is possible, and it is known that some food crops concentrate arsenic; its solubility means that it will also enter waterways, where it concentrates in the tissues of some edible marine species. Hazardous levels are unknown. However, it should be noted that our model gives an upper bound; it is likely that since in reality there will be large rural areas making no contribution to arsenic emissions, the contribution of fires to ambient concentrations will be lower than our estimate—perhaps below the 0.001 μg/m3 set by limits on measur-ability.

Assessing the potential impacts of the larger releases associated with photovoltaic manufacturing is a more difficult task than modeling house-fire releases. Existing smelters and recovery facilities are already known to result in high local concentrations of cadmium and arsenic. Since the small particulates resulting from high-temperature processes can remain suspended for long periods (days to weeks), it is possible that these emissions will affect ambient levels far from facilities. Depending on release rates, photovoltaic array manufacturing facilities may also significantly affect concentrations and deposition rates nearby. An estimate of the possible magnitude can be obtained by assuming that emissions from array manufacturing facilities are distributed uniformly throughout an area whose electrical service is obtained from photovoltaics. In the steady state (in which an array plant with annual capacity of 200 MWe provides replacement units for 600,000 residences), the emissions from array manufacturing might be spread over about 600 mi2. If releases are as high as 1 percent of throughput, this would imply an average cadmium deposition rate of 100 μg/m3/month, far in excess of current rates. While this is a somewhat unrealistic model,* it is evident that releases must be kept far below 1 percent, and that array manufacturing facilities must be sited in a manner appropriate to the emission level actually attained. Similar cautionary statements are in order concerning inorganic arsenic emissions: a 1 percent release rate would imply an average arsenic deposition of 1 μg/m2/month.

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Robert B. Finkelman, Stephen F. Greb, in Applied Coal Petrology, 2008

10.7 Final Comments

Coal has a long history of environmental and health impacts that stem from decades in which there was a lack of scientific understanding concerning the potential impacts as well as a lack of regulation. As concerns were recognized, scientific research helped to clarify causes of various environmental and health issues, and methods for mitigating or abating many impacts. Regulations were passed and best practices developed to limit future impacts, and mitigate or abate past abuses. This research continues. It should be noted that not all the environmental and health concerns attributed to coal are valid. There have been many cases where concerns about an issue in one situation are raised in another area where they do not apply.

Should we be concerned about the environmental and health impacts of coal (Finkelman et al., 2006)? Of course we should. Any prudent person should be concerned and should encourage and support efforts by the government and industry to reduce known and probable impacts until such time that a viable energy alternative is available. How concerned should we be? That would depend on your proximity to the source of the issue; the amount, rank, and chemistry of coal used; the mining method used; the type of processing prior to use (if any); the technology employed in the combustion process; local hydrology, local geology, regulations and oversight in an area; and other factors such as the state of your health. The direct health problems caused by coal and coal use are generally local and often associated with legacy issues (pre-modern regulation) or occur in developing countries that do not regulate their mining and utilization industries or use the advanced mining, reclamation, combustion, and emissions control technology and methods used by more industrialized nations. For people living in areas where high-quality coal is burned in modern boilers using the best available pollution control technology and sensible coal combustion byproduct disposal practices, the health threat is minimal. Nevertheless, as more coal is mined and used (especially in developing nations), new coal resources are utilized, new technologies are developed to use coal as a fuel (gasification, liquefaction), and coal byproducts are used for more industrial applications, scientific research will continue to define the variability and limits of potential environmental and health impacts from coal so that concerns can be addressed before they become a problem. These research efforts point out the critical necessity to acquire fundamental geological and geochemical data and that these data be applied beyond traditional uses to address global and/or local environmental coal issues. Coal geoscientists must be aware that the reliance on coal as a 21st-century energy source will also bring the burden of understanding and mitigating environmental issues related to human health.

Although current information indicates that emissions of potentially hazardous air pollutants from utility coal combustion in the United States do not present a significant threat to human health, domestic coal use in developing countries has caused serious health problems. Coal scientists and technologists are ideally positioned to help medical and public health specialists improve public health in these countries. A better knowledge of coal quality parameters may help to minimize some of the health problems caused by domestic use of mineralized coals. Information on the concentrations and distributions of potentially toxic elements in coal may assist people dependent on local coal sources to avoid those areas of a coal deposit having undesirably high concentrations of toxic compounds. Information on the modes of occurrence of potentially toxic elements and the textural relations of the minerals and macerals in which they occur may help us to anticipate the behavior of the potentially toxic components during coal cleaning, combustion, weathering, and leaching. This situation offers coal scientists an opportunity to directly contribute to improved public health.

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James G. Speight PhD, DSc, in Oil Sand Production Processes, 2013

It has long been recognized that there is the need for responsible resource development, and the various levels of government have put the criteria in place to assure minimal environmental impact through (1) science-based precautionary limits that tell us when ecosystems are threatened and (2) improvement of the systems and approaches for monitoring and addressing the impacts of oil sand development on the climate, air, freshwater, boreal forest, and wildlife. In fact, the establishment and implementation of an effective oil sands monitoring is fundamental to the long-term environmental sustainability and economic viability of a rapidly growing oil sands industry in Canada or, for that matter, in any country that seeks to follow development of indigenous oil sand resources.

Development of resources such as oil sand, oil shale, and coal is of particular interest to the United States, which has additional compelling reasons to develop viable alternative fossil fuel technologies. There has been the hope that the developing technology in the United States will eventually succeed in developing alternate energy sources. However, the optimism of the 1970s and 1980s has been succeeded by the reality of the twenty-first century and it is now obvious that these energy sources will not be the answer to energy shortfalls in the near term. Energy demands will most probably need to be met by the production of more liquid fuels from fossil fuel sources.


Surface disturbance, water, greenhouse gases

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CHARLES SIMEONS M.A., in Hydro-Power, 1980

Wave Power

Environmental and social issues must result from the large scale installation of wave power stations. It is clear that there will be four main considerations.

the effect on the shore line.

the effect on fisheries.

the economic and social development of local communities.

the navigation of ships.

The effect on the shore line will vary from scheme to scheme. The very nature of wave energy conversion and converters is to change the action of the waves in the local vicinity. In turn this will affect the topology of the shore line depending upon the distance which the converters are sited from the shore and the composition and inclination of the beaches.

Mathematical models have been used at the U.K. Hydraulics Research Station which when considered in conjunction with local geology and geography show that for batteries of floating converters sited between 10 and 50 Km offshore to the West of the Outer Hebrides, the effects likely to be felt on the local beaches, will be small. The assumption is that in these particular circumstances any changes would be beneficial as opposed to being adverse.

Systems of energy converters anchored to the seabed nearer to shore, could exert a greater environmental impact but these would depend upon the sites chosen and each would need detailed examination.

However, once power begins to be transmitted ashore from the generating stations certain problems are inevitable. The more remote the generating site, the greater the need for overland transmission with all that this involves for both pylons and cables. Careful routing will be vital.

The effect upon Fisheries

Preliminary studies have already been carried out as to the likely effect of wave energy installations on commercial fishery activity. Much more information is required as to the general habits of fish likely to be found in the area, although no insuperable problems are foreseen. However, certain types of seabed may be associated with spawning habits, such as gravel, known to be used for this purpose by herrings.

Economic and Social Impact

Certain preliminary studies must always precede any proposal for setting up this type of system to determine

the type of labour force needed to operate and maintain wave power stations.

the possibility of utilising some of the power, to establish suitable new industries in the area.

These two aspects are interconnected; in general terms wave power is best suited to more remote areas where electricity produced by other methods may not be available. Desalination is a good example of the potential which the concept can offer to remote parts. Then it is likely that labour will be available only in relatively small numbers and may well have to be brought in.

Wave power does offer a means of bringing electricity to isolated areas, other than through the use of generators, and so open up a whole range of new possibilities.

Navigational Problems

Many wave power converters, lie low in the water and therefore become relatively invisible to shipping even when radar is used, under most conditions at sea. The positions will therefore need to be marked and the systems provided with warning lights and radar reflectors. In order for the markers to be visible, they will need to be well above sea level and relatively stable in a horizontal plain.

Paths will need to be left in the line of converters to allow the passage of fishing vessels and in some parts of the world, particularly where oil and natural gas recovery are taking place, lanes provided for oil tankers and other shipping. This could well limit the siting of some systems wherever it is contemplated installing large numbers of converters, detailed assessment, well in advance, will be vital.

Tidal Energy

Any barrage created to harness tidal energy, must have considerable consequences environmentally, dependent upon the site chosen and the nature and design of the Barrage.

Much environmental research has been taking place in different parts of the world where barrages for this purpose have been contemplated. Government Departments have commissioned consultants, learned societies and universities, to do this work, much of which still remains uncompleted.

A number of approaches have been put forward which are worthy of consideration. They include:

drawing upon the existing fund of knowledge which already exists in universities so that predictions can be made.

numerical specialisation of the generalised components of this type of ecosystem.

The first approach basically involves Action Learning, a concept adopted by Professor Reginald Revans which involves the solving of urgent problems by drawing upon the experiences of men and women from within the organisation – and outside of it.

The problem with respect of the harnessing of energy from the tides is very real. Bearing in mind the time scale for development of a barrage, the cynics might say that it is not a problem requiring an urgent solution – although the environmentalists will contest this suggestion, and rightly so.

Among the problems requiring examination are:

wave, current and tidal data.

water movement in the area.

movement of sediment.

geological surveys.

the effect of barrages on currents and tides.

the biological changes in man-made structures.

sewage disposed in estuaries.

the impact upon fishing and fisheries.

navigation and shipping lanes.

the impact on the quarry industry – where applicable.

land drainage, wild life, ecology and amenity.

movement of waste carried by rivers.

presence of heavy metal contaminants.

While most of the items listed, so far, have been drawn up from a position of doubt, as to their detrimental effects, some will clearly be beneficial and should be examined in that light.

They include:

feasibility of a road across the barrage.

possibility of a railway being carried.

use of the structure for carrying pipelines.

land reclamation.

port schemes.

regional airports.

pollution potential.

use of waste material.

water storage-upstream.

However, each country can produce its own examples of the generalities already mentioned. Common to all must be the need for an environmental impact study, an example of which can be seen in Appendix E.

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James G. Speight, in Subsea and Deepwater Oil and Gas Science and Technology, 2015

9.2.2 Entry into the Environment

There are several possible disposal methods for pollutants from arising from offshore oil and gas exploration and production to enter the environment: (1) direct discharge of effluents and solid wastes into the seas and oceans—overboard discharge, (2) ship-to-shore transport, (3) reinjection, and (4) disposal in especially drilled underground structures, (5) land runoff into the coastal zone, mainly with rivers, and (6) atmospheric fallout of pollutants transferred by the air mass onto the surface of the waterways oceans) (Speight and Arjoon, 2012).

Overboard discharge is the easiest and cheapest method of disposal but also the most environmentally damaging method. Overboard disposal of oil-related waste will generally result in limited and short-term environmental impact—it is believed (but not always the case) that crude oil will be degraded fairly rapidly and lose any toxic properties. However, such beliefs are often misguided and are not based on any scientific logic whatsoever the beliefs do not provide any proof that will lead to exclusion the possibility of long-term and cumulative ecological impacts (Patin, 1999; Speight and Arjoon, 2012; Speight, 2014a). For some pollutants (metals, crude oil-based constituents, and other hydrocarbons which are indigenous to the oceans because they are produced by natural bio-geochemical cycles), the task of determining the manner in which the pollutants arise from offshore drilling activities is complicated. In fact, there are many examples when extremely high concentrations of crude-oil based and natural gas-based constituents, as well as heavy metals, are not connected with offshore drilling activities (Neff et al., 1987).

Natural processes such as (1) volcanic activity, (2) oil and gas seepage on the bottom of the ocean or waterway, (3) mud flows, and (4) river flooding are all capable of introducing such pollutants into the ocean. Indeed, such occurrences should be taken into consideration (they are often not in the emotion of the moment) in order to produce an objective assessment of the impact of offshore oil and gas drilling and production activities. In addition, natural seeps are purely natural phenomena that occur when crude oil seeps from the geologic strata beneath the seafloor to the overlying water column and have been occurring for millennia (Etkin, 2009; Speight, 2014a). Although theses natural seeps release substantial amounts of crude oil (or crude oil derivatives) annually, the oil is usually released at a rate low enough for the surrounding ecosystem to adapt. On the other hand, crude oil and natural gas production can result in variable releases of both crude oil and refined products that can, when excessive, immediately overwhelm the environment. Thus, new lines of thinking need to be recognized and developed—including precise analytical methods to determine trace amounts of contaminants to obtain more reliable estimates of the contribution of the various modes of pollution of the waterways, particularly pollution of the marine environment (Speight, 2005; Speight and Arjoon, 2012; Speight, 2014a,b). The combination of these factors under specific conditions ultimately defines the ecological situation in a given area—different marine regions are subjected to various and specific impact factors.

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RALPH L. KEENEY, in Siting Energy Facilities, 1980


Environmental impact refers to the impact on the ecosystem. The elimination or disruption of members of various flora and fauna species are of particular interest. With any electrical generation facility there will be environmental impacts related to mining and processing the fuel, and transporting it to the power plant site. The construction of the plant and the transmission line will have environmental effects. Additional impacts of operations occur via air, water, and land pollution and possible radiation. Other energy facilities, such as refineries and pipelines, will also have various environmental effects associated with construction and operation. In all facilities, the disposal of wastes such as spent nuclear material, sludge, liquid wastes, flyash, and by-products also produces environmental effects.

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Lanyu Li, Xiaonan Wang, in Computer Aided Chemical Engineering, 2018

2.3 Environmental Impact

The environmental impact of the system is not only the impact that is induced during the operation of the system, but also the amount resulted from its manufacturing, disposal and decommissioning processes. A lifecycle impact assessment (LCIA) involving the major environmental impact of the system throughout its lifecycle is a systematic and common way to evaluate the environmental impact of a system. In this study, ReCiPe point as a commonly used endpoint LCIA evaluation method, is adopted as indicator for the environmental performance of the technologies. The data and method is based on the energy storage system LCA study conducted by Oliveira et al. (2015), where the environmental impacts on climate change, human toxicity, particulate matter formation and fossil depletion were assessed and aggregated into a single ReCiPe endpoint in hierarchist version using European normalization and average weighting set.

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Bruce G. Miller, in Coal Energy Systems, 2005

Coal Transportation

Environmental impacts result from the transport of coal. Coal transportation is accomplished through rail, truck, water, slurry pipeline, or conveyor; however, most is performed by rail. Environmental impacts occur during loading, en route, or during unloading and affect natural systems, manmade buildings and installations, and people (e.g., due to injuries or deaths) [23]. All forms of coal transportation have certain common environmental impacts, which include use of land, structural damage to facilities such as buildings or highways, air pollution from engines that power the transportation systems, and injuries and deaths related to accidents involving workers and the general public (e.g., railway crossing accidents). In addition, fugitive dust emissions are experienced with all forms of coal transport, although precautionary measures are increasingly being taken [23]. It is estimated that 0.02% of the coal loaded is lost as fugitive dust with a similar percentage lost when unloading. Coal losses during transit are estimated to range from 0.05 to 1.0%. The amount is dependent upon mode of transportation and length of trip but can be a sizeable amount, especially for unit train coal transit across the country.

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Bruce G. Miller, in Clean Coal Engineering Technology (Second Edition), 2017

3.3 Coal Transportation

Environmental impacts result from the transport of coal. Coal transportation is accomplished through rail, truck, water, slurry pipeline, or conveyor, but most is performed by rail. Environmental impacts occur during loading, en route, or during unloading and affect natural systems, man-made buildings and installations, and people (i.e., injuries or deaths) (Chadwick et al., 1987).

All forms of coal transportation have certain common environmental impacts, including the use of land, structural damage to facilities such as buildings or highways, air pollution from engines that power the transportation systems, and injuries and deaths related to accidents involving workers and the general public (e.g., railway crossing accidents). In addition, fugitive dust emissions are experienced with all forms of coal transport, although precautionary measures are increasingly taken (Chadwick et al., 1987). It is estimated that 0.02% of the coal loaded is lost as fugitive dust with an equal amount lost when it is unloaded. Estimates range from 0.05% to 1.0% of the coal being lost during transit. The amount is dependent upon mode of transit and length of trip, but can be a sizeable amount, especially for unit train coal transit across the country.

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