We know that coal fired power generation is damaging the climate, killing people through lung and respiratory disease, and that new coal plants are more expensive to build than wind or solar.
What other harm could the burning of fossil fuels possibly cause?
It turns out that it might be killing our sperm as well.
Current estimates suggest that the human health burden that comes from burning coal effectively adds another $13/MWh to its cost as an energy source.
But this dollar figure could be about to rise, after a new scientific found that coal power pollution is damaging the very seed of human existence: sperm quality.
The observational study, published this week in BMJ Journals, found that Taiwanese men exposed to higher levels of air pollution – much of it the type caused by coal and petrol engines – tended to have poorer quality sperm.
The researchers examined “the swimmers” of close to 6500 men who participated in a standard medical examination program between 2001 and 2014.
It then compared the results of their tests to the estimated levels of fine particulate matter around each man’s home.
The result observed “a robust association” between exposure to particulate matter and a decrease in the normal shape and size of sperm, but also higher concentrations of sperm.
The authors say that although they can’t prove cause and effect, and the effects are small, the study highlights an important public health challenge, with air pollution potentially becoming a risk factor of male reproductive health.
“Although the effect estimates are small and the significance might be negligible in a clinical setting, this is an important public health challenge,” the report says.
“Given the ubiquity of exposure to air pollution, a small effect size of PM2.5 on sperm normal morphology may result in a significant number of couples with infertility. We advocate global strategies on mitigation of air pollution to improve reproductive health.”
So, you can add that to the hidden cost of coal. A social cost of carbon pollution runs at around $40/tonne, and the direct impact on human health is put at $13/MWh. So let’s add damage to reproductive systems to the tab.