A global perspective on coal-fired power plants and burden of lung cancer

Environ Health. 2019 Jan 28;18(1):9. doi: 10.1186/s12940-019-0448-8.


Background: Exposure to ambient particulate matter generated from coal-fired power plants induces long-term health consequences. However, epidemiologic studies have not yet focused on attributing these health burdens specifically to energy consumption, impeding targeted intervention policies. We hypothesize that the generating capacity of coal-fired power plants may be associated with lung cancer incidence at the national level.

Methods: Age- and sex-adjusted lung cancer incidence from every country with electrical plants using coal as primary energy supply were followed from 2000 to 2016. We applied a Poisson regression longitudinal model, fitted using generalized estimating equations, to estimate the association between lung cancer incidence and per capita coal capacity, adjusting for various behavioral and demographic determinants and lag periods.

Results: The average coal capacity increased by 1.43 times from 16.01 gigawatts (GW) (2000~2004) to 22.82 GW (2010~2016). With 1 kW (KW) increase of coal capacity per person in a country, the relative risk of lung cancer increases by a factor of 59% (95% CI = 7.0%~ 135%) among males and 85% (95% CI = 22%~ 182%) among females. Based on the model, we estimate a total of 1.37 (range = 1.34 ~ 1.40) million standardized incident cases from lung cancer will be associated with coal-fired power plants in 2025.

Conclusions: These analyses suggest an association between lung cancer incidence and increased reliance on coal for energy generation. Such data may be helpful in addressing a key policy question about the externality costs and estimates of the global disease burden from preventable lung cancer attributable to coal-fired power plants at the national level.

Keywords: Coal capacity; Coal-fired power plants; Energy matrix; Environmental factor; Global burden disease; Lung cancer incidence; PM2.5.

MeSH terms

  • Coal*
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Power Plants*
  • Risk


  • Coal