Human Health

Using electricity may seem like it doesn't have a health impact, but creating energy often also creates pollution. Just as with any other type of pollution, it eventually ends up impacting human health. Most energy currently comes from fossil fuels, which create a lot of pollution. People need to look for new energy sources because fossil fuels are running out, but also because it's important to reduce pollution.

Pollution from Power

In the United States there are more than 400 coal-fired power plants, and they emit more toxins into the air than any other single source — about 42 percent of all U.S. toxins, according to the 2002 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Toxic Release Inventory. In addition, half of all Americans live within thirty miles of a coal-burning power plant. Coal-burning power plants release huge amounts of mercury (which is toxic to brain development), as well as more than 361,000 tons of other toxins, including vanadium, barium, zinc, lead, chromium, arsenic, nickel, hydrogen fluoride, hydrochloric acid, ammonia, and selenium.

Divide your students into small groups to research the potential health impacts of each of these toxins. One of the most informative websites for learning about toxins is the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry'sToxFAQs at Have your students explore their toxin using this site and any others they find. They should compile basic information about what the toxin is and the potential health impacts. When they are done studying it, they should prepare a presentation for the class. How do they feel after learning about these pollutants created from burning coal? What does it make them think about finding cleaner energy sources? What about more ways to conserve energy and reduce pollution?

Learning about toxic pollutants is always overwhelming. Remember to remind your students that everyone can create change and even small ones count. Every time they turn out a light or unplug electronics, they are a part of the solution. They are helping protect the planet by reducing pollution.

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