Killer Coal

Author: Mark Roland


1 Class Period

Preparation Time:

10 minutes

Materials: Handouts, from websites listed below

During this lesson, students will be exploring some of the environmental health risks involved with both the mining and burning of coal. There is an article that discusses a potential health risk of coal in the Balkan Peninsula, another that lists risk factors involved with both the mining and burning of coal, and there is a link to a collection of photographs depicting the lives of coal miners. The students will read these articles, view the photographs, and then discuss what feelings and thoughts they have regarding them. The consumption of coal will be portrayed from a different perspective than the previous lessons, which should juxtapose well with the ideas of conservation of energy and previous class discussions about our society’s use of electrical energy.

Purpose –This lesson is designed to engage students in the unit dealing with electricity generation from fossil fuels.

Students will be able to:
1. List some of the potential health risks workers and the surrounding community face with the mining and burning of coal.

National Science Education Standard:
Content Standard F-Science and Social Perspectives
• Hazards and the potential for accidents exist. Regardless of the environment, the possibility of injury, illness, disability, or death may be present. Humans have a variety of mechanisms--sensory, motor, emotional, social, and technological--that can reduce and modify hazards.
• The severity of disease symptoms is dependent on many factors, such as human resistance and the virulence of the disease-producing organism. Many diseases can be prevented, controlled, or cured. Some diseases, such as cancer, result from specific body dysfunctions and cannot be transmitted.

• Humans use many natural systems as resources. Natural systems have the capacity to reuse waste, but that capacity is limited. Natural systems can change to an extent that exceeds the limits of organisms to adapt naturally or humans to adapt technologically.

• Normal adjustments of earth may be hazardous for humans. Humans live at the interface between the atmosphere driven by solar energy and the upper mantle where convection creates changes in the earth's solid crust. As societies have grown, become stable, and come to value aspects of the environment, vulnerability to natural processes of change has increased.
• Human activities can enhance the potential for hazards. Acquisition of resources, urban growth, and waste disposal can accelerate rates of natural change.

Related and Resource Websites
http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/health_and_environment/index.cfm (effects of mining and burning coal)
http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs004-01/fs004-01.pdf (coal in the Balkans)
http://pittsburgh.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.lib.iup.edu%2Fspec_coll%2Fexhibits%2Ftable_of_contents.html (Collection of articles)
(Coal mining disasters)



1. Prepare the first two readings, dealing with coal mining in the Balkan Peninsula, and the effects of mining and burning of coal. Distribute them to students as they enter the classroom. Ask them to consider these questions for discussion after their readings.
a. Do you think that either of these sources is biased? If so, in what way?
b. What information can you determine as fact, and what might be opinion?
c. What are your thoughts on the reading? Will this make you try to conserve energy?

2. Discuss these questions with the class. Allow some controversy, and depending on the class, encourage discussion. The students may feel strongly about their viewpoints, but should be able to logically defend them.

3. At some point during the discussion, introduce the photographs, perhaps on a computer screen visible to the whole group. This could be one way to encourage some controversy, if necessary.

4. Depending on the discussion, and how much time you have left, two more websites are provided for additional information. One website is a collection of articles dealing with coal miners. The second website is a list of all coal mining accidents in the United States with 5 or more deaths. This list has an impact at first glance, demonstrating the inherent dangers of coal mining. Notice the relative decrease in accidents in recent years as one positive aspect.

Ask students to pick one article from the website provided, and ask them to summarize the information from the article. After a short summary, reflect on the content with regard to the class discussion and the student’s own feelings about the topic.

Embedded Assessment
Article summary

The summary of and response to the article read for lesson closure would most likely need to be finished as homework.

Embedded Assessment













PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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