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Benchmarks: September 6, 1869: Pennsylvania's Avondale coal mine fire kills 110, igniting reform

In the mid-19th century, American industry was fueled by coal, which was provided largely by the anthracite coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania. The work drew tens of thousands of immigrants, including experienced English and Welsh miners, and many fleeing the Irish Potato Famine. But the work was dangerous, and each year thousands of workers died in the mines and many thousands more were seriously injured. 

06 Sep 2018

Coal formation nearly froze Earth

Burning coal releases carbon dioxide, which warms the planet when the gas escapes into the air. On the flip side, coal formation sequesters carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by plants, which contributes to global cooling as the planet’s greenhouse gas blanket thins. According to new research, so much carbon was removed from the atmosphere in the Carboniferous Period, when most of Earth’s coal reserves formed, that the planet became almost completely covered in ice.

21 Feb 2018

Unexpected nanoparticles trace coal pollution

Coal burning produces an array of chemicals and particulates that, when released into the atmosphere, contribute to pollution, poor air quality and threats to public health. Measurements of particulate air pollution typically focus on particles called PM2.5, which have diameters of 2.5 micrometers or less. This group includes nano-sized particles, although these bits of minerals, dust and organics often go undetected because of their tiny size. In a new study, researchers sampling a coal ash spill have unearthed a type of nanoparticle not previously known to be produced by burning coal. While the particles might be useful in detecting pollution problems, they may also have consequences for human and environmental health.

24 Jan 2018

Lack of fungi did not lead to copious Carboniferous coal

The Carboniferous Period is famous for supplying Earth with an abundance of coal deposits. According to one hypothesis, the formation of all this coal is explained by a proposed 60-million-year gap, or lag, between the spread of the forests globally about 360 million years ago and the rise of wood-eating microbes and fungi that could break down tough plant matter. But a new study refutes this idea, instead attributing the Carboniferous’ copious coal to the consolidation of the supercontinent Pangea.

25 May 2016

Trash-to-treasure: Turning nonrecycled waste into low-carbon fuel

Americans produce more than four pounds of trash per person per day, amounting to 20 percent of the world’s waste. Although recycling rates have increased over the past few decades — out of the 4.4 pounds of trash (per capita) that we produce in the U.S. each day, we compost or recycle about 1.5 pounds and incinerate another 0.5 pounds — more than 50 percent of our waste still ends up buried in landfills.

31 Jul 2012

A Dirty Secret - China's greatest import: Carbon emissions

The U.S. and much of the Western world have a dirty secret.

While we claim to be working diligently to decrease our emissions and switch to cleaner, non-fossil fuel energies, we are actually just exporting emissions to other countries, most notably China. We don’t talk about it. We get on our soapboxes at international meetings and claim to be making great progress to halt ever-increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. And we complain vociferously about developing countries — again, most notably China — not doing the same.

22 Nov 2010

Who deals with coal fires?

Currently (and historically), most people who deal with underground coal fires and gob fires are employed by government agencies, mining and engineering companies, and firefighting agencies. Today, as in the past, these institutions undertake various responsibilities that include recording the location of coal fires, tracking their progression, and extinguishing the most problematic ones, if physically and economically feasible.

01 Sep 2010

Further reading and international collaborations

The growing interest in coal fires has led to the largest collection of peer-reviewed publications about this topic ever undertaken for publication, which includes the work of scientists and engineers around the world interested in peat, the precursor of coal, and peat fires. This project has resulted in a four-volume book, entitled “Coal and Peat Fires: A Global Perspective,” to be published later this year by Elsevier. It will include an interactive online world map of coal and peat fires.

01 Sep 2010

The rising global interest in coal fires

In eastern India, north of the Damodar River, approximately 70 fires are burning in the Jharia coalfield, the largest coalmine fire complex in the world. The majority of fires in Jharia ignite when coal, exposed to air during mining operations, spontaneously combusts. Particulate matter and noxious gases emitted from the burning coal — including sulfur, carbon and nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons released at the surface from gas vents, ground fissures and the soil — have caused illnesses that range from stroke to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

01 Sep 2010

Voices: Must we capture and store carbon from coal to meet emission-reduction targets?

Last Wednesday, Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman unveiled a comprehensive energy bill (PDF) called the American Power Act. The central purpose of the proposed legislation (along with a similar bill passed by the House of Representatives in June 2009) is to significantly curb the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions.

18 May 2010