Renewable energies will benefit US workers

August 18, 2009

Expansion of renewable energies should appreciably improve the health status of the 700,000 US workers employed in the energy sector, according to a commentary by Medical College of Wisconsin researchers, in Milwaukee. Their review is published in the August 19, 2009, issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Steven Sumner, M.D., who completed the work while a medical student, along with Peter Layde, M.D., professor of population health and co-director of the Injury Research Center at the Medical College, examined occupational health risks to workers in renewable industries compared to fossil fuel industries. Risk of workplace injury and death among energy workers is a hidden cost of energy production, known as an externality of energy. Externalities of energy production include a whole host of problems from damage to the general environment to adverse effects on human health caused by pollution to injury and death among workers in the energy sector.

Dr. Sumner, currently an internal medicine resident at Duke University, and Dr. Layde examined the human health risks associated with traditional , such as coal, oil, and natural gas, relative to sources such as wind, solar, and biomass. Wind and solar energy appeared to offer less risk of workplace injury and death than traditional fossil fuel industries, as the dangerous energy extraction phase is minimized or eliminated in wind or solar energy production. Biomass, comprised of biofuels, organic waste, and wood derived fuels, currently accounts for more than half of US energy renewable consumption and does not appear to offer a significant safety benefit to US workers relative to fossil fuels.

“The energy sector remains one of the most dangerous industries for US workers. A transition to renewable energy generation utilizing sources such as wind and solar could potentially eliminate 1300 worker deaths over the coming decade,” says Dr. Sumner.

According to Dr. Layde, “Previous research on the health effects of a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy has focused on the environmental benefits of renewable energy on air quality and global warming. The benefits of reduced workplace injury and fatality have not been sufficiently emphasized in the debate to move to renewable energies. This will be an added benefit to US energy workers with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.”

The researchers reviewed the occupational cost of energy production in the traditional and new energies and noted that while fossil fuel energies have historically been priced lower than renewable energies, the additional hidden costs, or externalities of energy, especially adverse effects on human health have often not been taken into account.

The dangers to energy workers were examined at various stages of energy production: extraction, generation and distribution. The entire fuel life cycle includes fuel extraction, other raw materials extraction, structure construction, equipment manufacturing, material transport, energy generation, power distribution and by product disposal.

Extraction:

Mining, which includes coal, gas, and oil extraction from underground or underwater stores, is the second most hazardous occupation in the US with 27.5 deaths per 100,000, compared to the average annual fatality rate of 3.4 deaths for all US industries. Only agriculture is more dangerous with 28.7 deaths per 100,000. Additionally, fossil fuel workers risk unintended injuries from extraction, and are exposed to hazardous particles, gases and radiation.

Renewable energies which eliminate the full extraction phase pose far less hazard, though a one-time extraction of raw materials is required to manufacture wind turbines and photovoltatic modules for wind and solar energy, respectively. Biomass, on the other hand, which includes corn farming for ethanol production, is unlikely to offer a reduction in extraction-related occupational fatalities.

Generation:

The combustion required to generate fossil fuel not only leads to green house gases and respiratory pollutants, but includes risk of catastrophic explosions. This also holds true for biomass energy generation. In developed countries fossil fuels are associated with more accident-related fatalities per unit of energy generated than either nuclear or hydroelectric power.

With wind and solar the possibility of a large unintentional catastrophe is limited.

Distribution:

There are several ways of distributing fossil fuel and renewable energies. Highway crashes account for the greatest proportion of fatalities among oil and gas extraction workers, who are not subject to work-hour restrictions imposed on other transportation industries. Biomass energies also use vehicular transportation. Both fossil fuel and wind and solar energies share a common pathway and risk for transmission of electrical current via utility powers lines.

The researchers concluded that available studies on occupational health risks of energy generation have significant limitations and more precise nationwide data for renewable energy occupations are needed. Nonetheless, the potential occupational health benefits of transitioning to renewal energies are considerable and the safety profile should be immediate, obvious and sizeable.

Source: Medical College of Wisconsin (news : web)

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Gulf spill oil dispersants associated with health symptoms in cleanup workers

September 19, 2017
Workers who were likely exposed to dispersants while cleaning up the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill experienced a range of health symptoms including cough and wheeze, and skin and eye irritation, according to scientists ...

India has avoided 1 million child deaths since 2005, new study concludes

September 19, 2017
India has avoided about 1 million deaths of children under age five since 2005, driven by significant reductions in mortality from pneumonia, diarrhea, tetanus and measles, according to new research published today.

Today's US teens about three years behind '70s generation

September 19, 2017
Teenagers in America today are about three years behind their counterparts from the 1970s when it comes to taking up sex, drinking alcohol and working for pay, researchers said Tuesday.

Study suggests link between youth football and later-life emotional, behavioral impairment

September 19, 2017
A new study has found an association between participation in youth tackle football before age 12 and impaired mood and behavior later in life. The study appears in Nature's Translational Psychiatry.

Self-confidence affected by teammates, study finds

September 19, 2017
A person's confidence in their own ability varies significantly depending on who is in their team, according to new research from the University of Stirling.

Video game boosts sex health IQ and attitudes in minority teens

September 18, 2017
A videogame designed by Yale researchers to promote health and reduce risky behavior in teens improves sexual health knowledge and attitudes among minority youth, according to a new study. The findings validate the value ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.