Coal isn't toxic

 .. or some would like us to believe that it seems; and folks who really should know better.
Here’s a quote from The Age newspaper that caught my eye:
“Coal,” says mining union chief Tony Maher, the hint of a smirk in his voice, ”is vegetable matter. It’s organic. It’s not toxic, it’s not radioactive. It has a waste problem. And that waste is carbon dioxide.”
Perhaps Mr. Maher might like to sit down to a lunch of coal salad or a nice coal marinara. I’m really astounded by his comment.  
Well, I guess he didn’t say it tasted good, but carbon dioxide isn’t the only waste product from coal. The burning of coal generates carcinogens, mercury, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and more. The fly ash left behind from the burning of coal contains arsenic, lead and mercury.
Mercury is incredibly toxic. Coal fired power plants are currently the largest single source of airborne mercury emissions in the United States and I’d hazard a guess that it’s the same in Australia.
Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides can cause acid rain. Lead isn’t what you’d call particularly friendly to life on this planet; nor is arsenic.
Yes, coal is natural, but so is oil, the funnelweb spider and rattlesnakes. Just because something is natural doesn’t make it harmless.
Coal is terribly toxic stuff – and that’s before we get into all the aspects relating to the mining and processing of the fossil fuel. Even so called “clean coal” technologies, an oxymoron in my opinion, can’t scrub out the mercury emissions and does nothing about the risks posed by fly ash. In fact, it takes more coal to make “clean coal” because of the extra energy required.
It’s time to phase out coal and go full steam ahead with renewable energy, giving it the same financial support given to fossil fuel industries for decades.
Coal has no long term future if we wish to win the battle against climate change and I believe the coal industry should be looking more to exit strategies rather than greenwashing in an attempt to ensure a business as usual scenario. It wouldn’t be the first industry that had to make a major transition.