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Studies Report Danger of Breathing Coal, Diesel Particles

As oil prices shoot up, so does the demand for coal -- a much cheaper energy source. Diesel fuel is also a popular alternative to gasoline, but there may be a price to pay for the savings. VOA's Carol Pearson reports many people are concerned about the impact of breathing coal dust and diesel particles in the air.

The economy of West Virginia depends heavily on coal so a protest by those who make a living in mining is rare. The people in Sundial, West Virginia, are concerned about the amount of coal dust their children are breathing. An energy company has built a coal processing plant that towers over their elementary school. Parents say children are coming home from school with headaches, runny noses and nausea, symptoms they do not have when they stay home. An investigator hired by the families found coal dust in the school.

State epidemiologist Dr. Loretta Haddy says she cannot confirm the parent's claims. She said, "Not from the information we have, the data that's been provided to us."

State officials are calling for more tests. Herb Elkins did not wait for test results. He decided to drive his son 140 kilometers each day to another school. Elkins said, "Why do y'all have to endanger our kids to make a dollar?"

Coal dust is not the only dangerous pollutant.

A study at the University of California found that diesel particle pollution inside school buses may be far worse than levels found outside the buses in the surrounding roadway air. Diesel particles are extremely small and can be deposited deep in the lungs. As a result of the study, the state of California recommends using the cleanest buses for the longest commutes and minimizing the time children spend on buses. Another study found that men who breathe diesel exhaust for just one hour at a time lose blood vessel function making them less able to handle changes and resist blood clots.

Another study looked at the effects of air pollution on lab animals. Researchers at New York University found pollution exposure caused hardening of the arteries (artherosclerosis) in mice that were prone to having cardiovascular disease. These last two studies used levels of air pollution similar to those found in most large urban areas in the United States. The Department of Energy says world energy consumption is projected to increase by as much as 70 percent by 2030.

Most of the increase will be in developing nations. Fossil fuels will continue to supply much of the world's energy.