Coal Plants and Communities: Finding the Safe Distance to Live

A coal power plant, also known as a coal-fired power station, is a thermal power station that burns coal in order to generate electricity.

They are very common around the world, producing electricity in many countries.

Overall, there are more than 2400 coal power plants worldwide. While this might not seem like a lot, there also might be residential areas nearby these facilities. But is that safe?

What is the safest distance to live from a coal power plant?

The safest distance to live from a coal power plant depends on a lot of factors. Still, most research and experts agree that anywhere between 20 to 30 kilometers away from a coal power plant is relatively safe.

Coal power plants produce various chemicals and toxic substances as a result of burning coal that can travel up to 30 kilometers away from the facility. Because of that, it’s important to follow safety precautions as closely as possible.

You may also want to ensure that your house isn’t located close to the railroad that transports the coal to the plant, which carries even more pollution and toxic substances.

What are the dangers of living too close to a coal power plant?

Life next to Coal Power plant

As its name suggests, coal-burning power plants burn coal to produce electricity. Just like with any time of combustion, this process produces various substances that are bad for the environment, but this doesn’t stop there.

As byproducts, coal power plants produce toxic substances that are dangerous to human health and can even be life-threatening.

These power plants produce the sulfur oxide, nitrogen dioxide, heavy metals, and coal ash, which are all harmful and can lead to serious health issues, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

In addition, some reports and research also show that people living near and around coal-burning power plants are at a higher risk of death.

Coal Power plant

This is caused both by the toxic substances that these plants produce as well as the resulting health problems.

Air pollution caused by coal-burning power plants is closely associated with asthma, cancer, heart and lung problems, and neurological issues. This is particularly applicable to those living right at the 30-kilometer mark.

These adverse health effects are particularly dangerous for pregnant women.

This is because living close to a coal-burning power plant has been linked to adverse birth outcomes and complications, including asthma and preterm delivery.

What’s more, coal-burning power plants may release coal ash and other substances right into the ground, poisoning in.

So, sometimes there might need to be a larger distance between these facilities and residential areas to stay as safe as possible.

Are coal power plants bad for the environment?

Bad for the environment

Unfortunately, all coal-burning power plants are bad for the environment, no matter how modern they are. After all, burning coal produces toxic substances that have to go somewhere, polluting the environment and endangering our lives.

Data shows that most of these coal power plants contaminate groundwater with toxic substances, exceeding the recommended safety standards.

While living far away from these power plants doesn’t pose any risk, people living closer might experience serious health problems.

Since coal power plants contaminate groundwater that animals tend to drink, they harm the ecosystem, all while polluting the air with ash.

Air Ash Polution

Air pollution from burning coal can lead to acid rain, global warming, and other severe environmental concerns.

Because of that, many countries choose to shift from coal-burning power plants when it comes to producing electricity. 

Are coal power plants radioactive?

Coal power plant smoke

Coal is used to produce power and electricity in many countries. In its natural form, coal contains trace amounts of radioactive elements.

Further, burning coal also created small amounts of naturally occurring radioactive materials called NORM.

Studies show that coal power plants, specifically the ash from these plants, contain significant amounts of arsenic, lead, thallium, mercury, uranium, and thorium.

Radioactive sign

This means that a coal-burning power plant might give off more radiation than a nuclear power plant to produce the same amount of electricity.

With that said, all power plants these days are shielded to protect the environment and the population from too much radiation.

Still, some radiation will definitely be released, but as long as there are no residential areas in close proximity, it’s not a severe problem.

Should you buy a house close to a coal power plant?

Large Factory and Houses

There are many things to consider when buying a house, and its proximity to any power plant is a very important factor.

Coal power plants produce various harmful substances that can travel huge distances, polluting the nearby area. In fact, studies show that ash from a coal-burning power plant can travel as far as 30 kilometers.

Other studies indicate that people who have lived several years near one coal power plant or more are at a higher risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

They are also more likely to die from these conditions.

Some studies even suggest that it might be less harmful to live next to a nuclear power plant than a coal-burning power plant, both when it comes to your health and the environment.

So, if you’re looking to buy a house, you may want to steer clear of properties that are close to coal-burning power plants.


As with every type of power plant, there are certain guidelines for how close to the coal power plant a residential area may be.

On average, experts recommend living at least 30 kilometers away from a coal-burning power plant to stay safe.

Still, coal power plants produce a lot of toxic substances and ash that can travel long distances. So, to stay as safe as possible, you may want to live much further away than just 30 kilometers.

Luckily, there are laws in place that prevent the construction of residential areas close to coal-burning power plants.

So, as long as you don’t go out of your way to find a house near a coal power plant, you shouldn’t experience any issues concerning this. 

Sources: US Environmental Protection Agency, PMC, and Duke University School of Medicine

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