What’s carbon emissions?

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Coal emissions from power plants include carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, mercury, arsenic, and heavy metals. These emissions can harm the environment and public health. Scrubbers can remove some harmful gases, but there is no affordable way to remove carbon dioxide.

Coal emissions are those emissions most commonly from coal-fired power plants that result from burning coal for the purpose of generating electricity. These emissions often take the form of chemical compounds, of which the most common are carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. To a lesser extent, coal emissions can also include carbon monoxide, mercury, arsenic and heavy flours such as lead, cadmium and uranium. All of these have a potentially negative impact on the environment.

The most common of carbon emissions is carbon dioxide. This is an odorless and tasteless gas that is a natural occurrence in the earth’s atmosphere and makes up a small percentage of the air. In larger quantities, such as those produced in coal-fired power plants, it is suspected that the gas can tip the atmospheric balance and lead to the trapping of additional heat in the atmosphere via the greenhouse effect.

Sulfur dioxide is another common coal emission. This gas is not responsible for the greenhouse effect, at least not to a large extent, but it can cause more localized problems. It is a major cause of acid rain, which can kill entire forests and mar the surfaces of buildings and vehicles. While steps have been taken to reduce this gas from coal emissions in most countries, the problem is still severe in some parts of the world, particularly China.

The other major emission from burning coal is nitrogen oxide. This gas is responsible for creating ozone, which is beneficial in the upper levels of the atmosphere but can be quite dangerous in the lower levels where people live. At lower elevations, ozone creates smog and can trigger asthma attacks in those prone to them. Therefore, it is considered a danger to public health.

While these three gases make up the majority of coal emissions, there are others that are found in smaller quantities. Mercury, arsenic and heavy metals can poison entire water systems, making the water unsafe to drink or fish unsafe for human and animal consumption. Carbon monoxide can also cause breathing problems or aggravate heart conditions. As with some of the gases mentioned above, there are ways to reduce some of these risks.

Scrubbers and cleaners can remove many of the carbon emissions such as sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide commonly found in coal. Scrubbers often use limestone to absorb harmful gases like a sponge, typically turning them into a paste or powder that will not be released into the atmosphere. Other harmful materials can also be removed through a similar process. Despite advances in clean coal technology, there is still no affordable way to remove carbon dioxide.

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