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  • Scientists warn of 'catastrophic' coal fires


Emissions of greenhouse and noxious gases from massive underground coal fires are threatening the environment and human health, scientists warned today at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Surprisingly few people know about them, but the fires are a "global catastrophe" says Glenn Stracher of East Georgia College, United States. The problem is most severe in countries such as China, India and Indonesia.

In China, for example, underground coal fires consume up to 200 million tons of coal per year, Stracher will report in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Coal Geology. And in Indonesia, the forest fires of recent decades have ignited many coal fires, which in turn can cause more forest fires, says Alfred Whitehouse of the US Ministry of Energy.

These ultra-hot fires can occur spontaneously, but are frequently caused by humans. Fires lit to clear land for farming may ignite coal seams or coal in abandoned mines or waste piles, which can then burn for decades or even centuries.

The exact levels of gas and soot particle emissions emanating from such fires are not yet known. But they are likely to result in a significant contribution to climate change, as well as to regional air pollution and human respiratory problems.

Source: SciDev.Net 2003

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