The main component of coal that causes so much damage is particulate matter, or PM. Nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, and sulfur dioxide, or SO2, are also factors, although they are not as dangerous as PM. Sulfur dioxide is hazardous pollutant that harms the respiratory system with prolonged exposure, and NO2 is concretely linked to reducing lung function, like the development of asthma. However, PM is the most dangerous because it is very small particulates that are inhaled that embed themselves in the lungs, and sometimes in the bloodstream. A common effect from this embedding of particles over long periods of time is respiratory infections, cardiovascular diseases, and even lung cancer. Those with weakened immune systems are even more at risk, like children and adults that are HIV positive.
Additionally, coal fired power plants are the number one source of carbon emissions, which contribute heavily to our warming atmosphere. The average coal power plant emits around 3.5 million tons of carbon dioxide every year. Multiple that by the 16 plants located across South Africa, and we have total emissions of around 48 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Carbon interferes with ozone in the atmosphere, trapping more heat and gradually raising the global temperature.