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The Destructive Role Of Power Plant Emissions

Updated on April 18, 2021
Andylyngdoh profile image

An article which highlights the toxic emission from power plants and its impact on humans and the environment


Power plants are essential industrial facilities that generate electricity from various energy sources. These plants utilize one or more generators to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy to supply electricity for society's electrical needs.

The primary fuel types that provide energy to the power plants vary from coal, natural gas to uranium (nuclear power). However, a substantially used energy flow for electricity generation is hydroelectricity (water). Further, other power plants that use to generate electricity include wind solar geothermal and tidal.

Various countries receive electricity from different power plants. For example, in Canada, most electricity generation comes from hydroelectric power plants, which account for about 60% of Canada's total electricity.

As the demand for power rises across the world, many power plants' construction to generate various forms of energy has grown over the years. Based on energy input/ fuel, seven power plant types are recognized, and these are as follows:

Power plants are essential for a country's development since it provides electrical energy. Studies show that some power plants are environmentally friendly, while others that depend on coal or natural gas as sources of energy are ecologically unfriendly. Power plants release an enormous amount of toxic gas in the atmosphere, which hampers humans' lives and other organisms. Some of the poisonous gases emitted from the power plants are as follows:

Hence, if the emission of toxic gasses from the power plants remains unchecked, it will inevitably affect humans and other living organisms. Further, some of the notable effects of power plants emission are as follows:

Acid rain:

Acid rain occurs because of the large-scale burning of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen released for different coal-based and natural gas-based power plants worldwide.

Acid rain has affected the natural vegetation, the aquatic ecosystem, historical monuments, and the agricultural sector and has human health.

As acid rain occurs, it percolates into the soil and affects the soil pH level and fertility, thereby decreasing forest cover and low agricultural productivity.

Acid rain leads to acidification of lakes and contaminates the fishes with the different acid elements, and this has resulted in the death of many fishes. Further, when humans consume these fishes, it has produced too many health issues.

The frequent occurrence of acid rain has destroyed many old historical monuments. The high acid level of the acid rain damages the material, such as granite with which the ancient historical monument. For example, the white marble of the Taj Mahal changes its color to off white due to the impact of acid rain.

Effects of mercury emission from power plants:

Coal-fired and natural gas-based power plants are the most significant categories of mercury emitters. Mercury is being emitted into the atmosphere and deposited in lakes and rivers by rain, snow, and surface runoff. Mercury is a pollutant with global consequences; once deposited in waterways; bacteria can convert mercury into methyl mercury that can be easily absorbed by fish and other organisms. Eating contaminated fish is the primary pathway for human exposure to mercury. Consumed mercury can cause damage to the nervous system, especially in children and fetuses. For example, the Minamata disease in Japan in 1956 caused by the release of methyl mercury in the industrial wastewater had affected many aquatic species and led to 1,784 human deaths.

Photo Chemical Smog:

Nitrogen oxide produced from coal, and natural gas-burning power plants get released in the air. They are combined with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight and form photochemical smog or brown smog. Photochemical smog has resulted in many respiratory health problems and has also affected the environment.

Ozone is a significant part of photochemical smog. It adversely affects human health even at a lower concentration - 0.12 part per million (the standard set by EPA). Ozone occurring at ground level can damage the eye's skin and lung, reducing the immunity of a person and causes short-term breathing difficulty.

Global Climate Change:

Power plants derived from natural gas and fossil fuels such as coal emit large amounts of carbon dioxide. Such emissions increase the greenhouse effect, which raises the earth's temperature. Suppose carbon dioxide emissions are not adequately investigated by 2050. In that case, temperatures could rise from 1.5 ̊ C to 4.5 ̊ C. Besides, various predictions that a five degrees centigrade increase in temperature rise will melt the polar ice cap and make the sea 5 m above the most densely populated beaches in the world.

As global climate changes and temperatures rise due to rising carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, the melting polar ice cap will pose serious threats for 22,000 polar bears. Therefore, rising surface temperatures melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels have real effects on human health and the environment.

Conclusion and Recommendation:

For ages, power plants have been an essential part of the industrial sector, propelling human civilization by providing energy (electricity). On the other hand, they have also affected human health and the environment by emitting harmful and toxic gasses to the atmosphere and deteriorating the air quality from time to time.

Therefore, to control pollution from power plants and maintain better air quality, serious steps should be taken by government stakeholders and various organizations. Hence, some of these steps are as follows:

  • Deforestation needs to be restricted. Further, afforestation and reforestation should be encouraged in areas close to the power plants as trees are known to be the best controller of air pollution. It will also help in maintaining the ecological balance.
  • Smoke-free furnaces in power plants are a must.
  • Proper and scientific anti-pollution devices should be installed in different power plants to check the pollution levels emitted.
  • Three methods (wet system, dry system, and wet and dry system) should be incorporated in power plants to remove the gaseous pollutants.
  • Every power plant should also be equipped with cyclone collectors and electrostatic precipitators to remove particulate matters and reduce pollution


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    • Andylyngdoh profile imageAUTHOR

      Andy T G Lyngdoh 

      11 months ago from India

      Thank you Vicki Carroll

    • alahiker28 profile image

      Vicki Carroll 

      11 months ago from Greater Birmingham Area

      Thank you for writing this very important article and writing it so well. I hope everyone reads it and reads it with earnest


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