Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Renewable Energies Will Benefit US Workers' Health, Expert Predicts

Date:
August 19, 2009
Source:
Medical College of Wisconsin
Summary:
Expansion of renewable energies should appreciably improve the health status of the 700,000 US workers employed in the energy sector, according to one expert.

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 energy 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 fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, relative to renewable energy 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.

The study was partially supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Medical College of Wisconsin. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Medical College of Wisconsin. "Renewable Energies Will Benefit US Workers' Health, Expert Predicts." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 August 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090818182004.htm>.
Medical College of Wisconsin. (2009, August 19). Renewable Energies Will Benefit US Workers' Health, Expert Predicts. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090818182004.htm
Medical College of Wisconsin. "Renewable Energies Will Benefit US Workers' Health, Expert Predicts." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090818182004.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Powerful Hurricane Gonzalo Heads to Bermuda

Raw: Powerful Hurricane Gonzalo Heads to Bermuda

AP (Oct. 17, 2014) Hurricane Gonzalo pounded Bermuda with wind and heavy surf on Friday, bearing down on the tiny British territory as a powerful Category 3 storm that could raise coastal seas as much as 10 feet. (Oct. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) Researchers believe an extinct kangaroo species weighed 500 pounds or more and couldn't hop. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hurricane Gonzalo Is A Category 4 And Heading To Bermuda

Hurricane Gonzalo Is A Category 4 And Heading To Bermuda

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) Powerful hurricane could hit Bermuda this weekend, and even if it misses it will likely do some damage. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Largest Volcano In Centuries Is Spewing Toxic Gas

The Largest Volcano In Centuries Is Spewing Toxic Gas

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) One of the largest volcanic eruptions in centuries is occurring on Iceland. The volcano Bardarbunga is producing high levels of sulfur dioxide. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins