The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB)’s financing of fossil fuels, in particular coal and “dirty oil” such as that extracted from the tar sands, can lead to serious health problems. Asthma sufferers and those with other with lung issues are particularly vulnerable to the particulates released into the air when coal is burned, and dangerous hydrogen sulphide gas from oil and gas wells is released and inhaled.

There are fourteen coal-fired generating stations in Canada, in five provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba*, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.

(* the Brandon Generating Station in Manitoba burns coal and/or natural gas)

The U.S. has approximately 1,200 coal-fired generators, at 450 facilities. The populations of Central and Eastern Canada are downwind from a number of them.

Coal-fired power plants are among the greatest sources of pollution. They are the biggest industrial emitters of mercury and arsenic into the air. They emit 84 of the 187 hazardous air pollutants identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as posing a threat to human health and the environment.

Coal plants also emit cadmium, chromium, dioxins (one of the most toxic substances known to Man), formaldehyde, furans, lead, nickel, deadly polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s), volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) including benzene, toluene, and xylene. Emissions include gases such as hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride. Small amounts of radioactive materials such as radium, thorium, and uranium are also emitted.

Burning coal in power plants emits two gases: sulfur dioxide (a significant contributor to global warming), and nitrogen oxides. These gases combine with precipitation in the atmosphere to form acid rain. The burning of coal also produces particulate matter.

According to the U.S. website “Tox Town” (, “The hazardous emissions from coal-fired power plants cause serious human health impacts. Arsenic, benzene, cadmium, chromium compounds, TCDD dioxin, formaldehyde, and nickel compounds are listed as carcinogens…by the National Toxicology Program. Furan and lead are listed as ‘reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.’”

“Hazardous air pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants can cause a wide range of health effects, including heart and lung diseases such as asthma. Exposure to these pollutants can damage the brain, eyes, skin, and breathing passages. It can affect the kidneys, lungs, and nervous and respiratory systems. Exposure can also affect learning, memory, and behaviour.”

“Mercury pollutes lakes, streams and rivers, and accumulates in fish. Nearly all fish and shellfish contain [some level of] mercury. “

“People who live near coal-fired power plants have the greatest health risks from [airborne] pollution. Many pollutants, such as metals and dioxins, may attach to fine particles and travel hundreds or even thousands of miles.”