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Study Links Air Pollution from Coal-Fired Power Plants to Higher Suicide Rates

By Joao Peixe | Wed, 15 May 2013 21:37 | 1

A new study has found that there is a strong relationship between pollution released into the air by coal fired power plants and higher rates of suicide.

By using data about mortality rates in 2001-2005 from the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics, and levels of air contamination in 2000 from the EPA, a direct correlation was proven to exist between the number of coal power plants in a county and the suicide rates in that same county.

Dr. John G. Spangler, the lead researcher of the study and a professor of family medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre, said that the “study raises interesting questions about suicide rates in counties where coal-fired electrical plants operate and suggests that the quality of air can affect people suffering from different mood disorders.”

Related article: Global Markets Hot for U.S. Coal

It has already been discovered that air pollution can have detrimental effects on human health, with links to; “early death, developmental disorders, asthma, low IQ, obesity, autism, insulin resistance in children, etc.,” according to CleanTechnica, but this is the first time that a direct link to suicide has been noted.

In general North Carolina has a much higher suicide rate than the US, but the study calculates that for each additional coal power plant in a NC county there were an extra two suicides a year per 100,000 people in that county.

At the time of this study there were 20 coal fired power stations in North Carolina, which meant that per 100,000 people roughly 40 killed themselves each year. Taking into account that at the time NC had a population of 8,049,313, which means that around 3,220 suicides each year could be attributed to pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Spangler admitted that “further research is needed to understand what factors related to coal burning actually are at play and suggest that tighter regulation of coal-fired power plant emissions might cut down on county suicide rates in North Carolina.”

By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com

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  • Energy Expert on May 19 2013 said:
    The NC coal-suicide study has gotten some coverage not only due to its shock value, but also because it reinforces the beliefs of anti-fossil fuel advocates. Unfortunately, there are serious flaws with this report, like:

    1 - The study is premised on the apparent fact that NC has a higher than average suicide rate. A major omission in the study is the fact that NC has one of the highest concentrations of active and retired military in the US (see this graphic [tinyurl.com/al7yql9]). A government study [tinyurl.com/cv6qk4o] into suicides concluded that the veteran suicide rate is an "unreported epidemic" — and the numbers reported by the government "may still be considerably underestimated". So, not considering the military factor in a study of NC's suicide rates, is a substantial deficiency.

    2 - Another significant matter is that the study's author apparently is assuming that "coal pollution affects" are magically constrained to stay within county boundary lines. Considering that some coal facilities are close to said lines, how is that possible?

    3 - A statistician friend told me: "The 1.96 increase in suicide rates over the baseline of 12.4 per 100,000 in NC creates a relative risk of 1.15 for the counties with coal plants, which is not proof of anything. (A relative risk of 2 is the minimum that should be considered as a strength of association in an observational epi study, so the author fails the most important Bradford Hill rule of toxicology—strength of association.) The NC increase could easily be the result of random variations or, more importantly, other confounders that might effect suicide rate, not addressed by the author."

    Note: This was done under the auspices of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center [www.wakehealth.edu] (they were the source of the original press release). However, the study and the press release now seem to have been removed from their site. My search for the paper shows that it was there, but it now doesn't come up. Hopefully that means that the author is giving more consideration to this matter.

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