Coal based Power Plant produce electricity by burning coal in a boiler to heat water to produce steam.
The steam, at tremendous pressure, flows into a turbine, which spins a generator to produce electricity.
The steam is cooled, condensed back into water, and returned to the boiler to start the process over. A
typical 500-megawatt coal power plant creates more than 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge
from the smokestack scrubber each year. Generally, more than 75% of this waste is disposed of in
unlined, unmonitored onsite landfills and surface impoundments. Toxic substances in the waste -
including arsenic, mercury, chromium, and cadmium - can contaminate drinking water supplies and
damage vital human organs and the nervous system. One study found that one out of every 100 children
who drink groundwater contaminated with arsenic from coal power plant wastes were at risk of
developing cancer. Ecosystems too have been damaged sometimes severely or permanently -- by the
disposal of coal plant waste. Much of the heat produced from burning coal is wasted. A typical coal
power plant uses only 33-35% of the coal's heat to produce electricity. The majority of the heat is
released into the atmosphere or absorbed by the cooling water. Once the 2.2 billion gallons of water have
cycled through the coal-fired power plant, they are released back into the lake, river, or ocean. This is
enough water to support a city of approximately 250,000 people. This water is hotter (by up to 20-25° F)
than the water that receives it. This "thermal pollution" can decrease fertility and increase heart rates in
fish. Typically, power plants also add chlorine or other toxic chemicals to their cooling water to decrease
algal growth. These chemicals are also discharged back into the environment.