Many environmental groups do consider it the dirtiest popular type of mining. Coal burning is a leading source of mercury contamination, and its combustion releases dioxide, hydrochloric and sulfuric acid, ammonia, arsenic and lead, for starters, killing 24,000 people prematurely a year, according to the American Lung Association. Then there’s the extensive damage mining does to landscapes, water supplies and ecosystems. One of coal’s byproducts is toxic coal ash, of which roughly 130 millions tons is produced each year.
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