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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UAB: Respiratory Health in Adults Residing Near a Coal-Burning Power Plant with Coal Ash Storage Facilities: A Cross-Sectional Epidemiological Study

Coal ash, the byproduct of burning coal made up of small particles, including heavy metals and radioactive elements, is discarded in open-air landfills where it can be emitted into the air, contributing to air pollution in the surrounding community. Few regulations exist regarding the storage, disposal, and transport of coal ash. There is limited research on the health impacts of coal ash exposure on communities.

The purpose of this study was to examine the prevalence of respiratory symptoms among adults exposed to coal ash and non-exposed adults. A team of researchers, including Dr. Kristina Zierold, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, collaborated on this study.

A cross-sectional epidemiological study was conducted among two populations: one exposed to coal ash and one not exposed to coal ash. Perception of health (p-Value < 0.0001), cough (Adjusted Odds Ratio (AOR) = 5.30, 95 percent Confidence Intervals (CI) = 2.60–11), shortness of breath (AOR = 2.59, 95 percent CI = 1.56–4.31), hoarseness (AOR = 4.02, 95 percent CI = 2.45–6.60), respiratory infections (AOR = 1.82, 95 percent CI = 1.14–2.89), and mean overall respiratory health score (p-Value < 0.0001) were all statistically significantly greater in exposed adults (N = 231) when compared to non-exposed adults (N = 170). Adults residing near the coal ash facility were more likely to report respiratory symptoms than the non-exposed population.

The authors concluded that more research on the health impact of coal ash and storage regulations needs to be conducted.

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