GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 158-5
Presentation Time: 9:05 AM


FINKELMAN, Robert B., University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, TX 75080, DHAR, Upasana, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Univesity of Texas at Arlington, Geosciences Building, 500 Yates Street, Arlington, TX 76019 and CHAKRABORTY, Sukalyan, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Brla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi, 835125

Uncontrolled fires can occur wherever coal is exposed at or near the surface. These fires can be caused by spontaneous combustion, sparks from machinery, lightning strikes, grass or forest fires, or by intention. Most of these fires are ephemeral, many are quickly extinguished, but some, particularly the underground fires, can burn for centuries or longer causing substantial loss of valuable resources, environmental damage, and potentially, adverse health impacts. Underground and surface coal fires mobilize potentially toxic elements such as sulfur, arsenic, selenium, fluorine, lead, and mercury as well as dangerous organic compounds such as benzene, toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene and deadly gases such as CO2 and CO. Despite the potentially serious health problems that can be caused by these uncontrolled coal fires there has been little research and documentation of their health impacts. Underground coal fires in the Jharia region of India where more than a million people reside, have been burning for 100 years. Numerous villages exist above the underground fires exposing the residents daily to dangerous emissions. Local residents near the fire-affected areas do their daily chores despite the intensity of the nearby fires. During winter children enjoy the heat of the coal fires oblivious to the potentially harmful emissions. To determine if these uncontrolled coal fires have caused health problems we developed a brief questionnaire on general health indices and administered it to residents of the Jharia region. Sixty responses were obtained from residents of two villages, one proximal to the coal fires and one about 5 miles away from the fires. The responses were statistically analyzed using SAS 9.4. It was observed that at a significance level of 5%, villagers who lived more than 5 miles away from the fires had a 98.3% decreased odds of having undesirable health outcomes. This brief survey indicates the risk posed by underground coal fires and how it contributes to the undesirable health impacts. What remains is to determine the specific health issues, what components of the emissions cause the health problems, and what can be done to minimize these problems and correct an environmental injustice.