Uncertainty and variability in health-related damages from coal-fired power plants in the United States

Risk Anal. 2009 Jul;29(7):1000-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2009.01227.x. Epub 2009 Apr 9.


The health-related damages associated with emissions from coal-fired power plants can vary greatly across facilities as a function of plant, site, and population characteristics, but the degree of variability and the contributing factors have not been formally evaluated. In this study, we modeled the monetized damages associated with 407 coal-fired power plants in the United States, focusing on premature mortality from fine particulate matter (PM(2.5)). We applied a reduced-form chemistry-transport model accounting for primary PM(2.5) emissions and the influence of sulfur dioxide (SO(2)) and nitrogen oxide (NO(x)) emissions on secondary particulate formation. Outputs were linked with a concentration-response function for PM(2.5)-related mortality that incorporated nonlinearities and model uncertainty. We valued mortality with a value of statistical life approach, characterizing and propagating uncertainties in all model elements. At the median of the plant-specific uncertainty distributions, damages across plants ranged from $30,000 to $500,000 per ton of PM(2.5), $6,000 to $50,000 per ton of SO(2), $500 to $15,000 per ton of NO(x), and $0.02 to $1.57 per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. Variability in damages per ton of emissions was almost entirely explained by population exposure per unit emissions (intake fraction), which itself was related to atmospheric conditions and the population size at various distances from the power plant. Variability in damages per kilowatt-hour was highly correlated with SO(2) emissions, related to fuel and control technology characteristics, but was also correlated with atmospheric conditions and population size at various distances. Our findings emphasize that control strategies that consider variability in damages across facilities would yield more efficient outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / economics
  • Coal / economics*
  • Environmental Exposure / economics*
  • Humans
  • Mortality*
  • Particle Size
  • Particulate Matter
  • Power Plants / economics*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sulfur Dioxide / economics
  • Uncertainty*
  • United States


  • Air Pollutants
  • Coal
  • Particulate Matter
  • Sulfur Dioxide