The paper divided the whole coal life cycle, explained each phase characteristics, and took coal mine in China as a study case to assess the ecological risk in coal utilization phase. The main conclusions are as follows: (1) the whole coal life cycle is divided into coal mining, processing, transportation, utilization, and waste disposal. (2) The key points of production organization and characteristics in the five phases have great differences. The coal mining phase is characterized by the damage of the key ecological factors (water, soil, atmosphere, vegetation, etc.) damaged while the coal processing phase by discharging waste. The characteristics in coal transportation phase mainly performance as escaping and migration of atmospheric pollutants. In coal utilization phase, the main characteristics are aggravation of greenhouse effect. The main characteristics of waste disposal phase are accumulation of negative ecological effects on the land. (3) The ecological risk of soil heavy metals is serious in coal utilization phase. The potential ecological hazard coefficients of Pb and As in coal, residue and ash are all lower than 40, presenting low environmental impact on soil; the potential ecological risk coefficients of Cd are higher than 60, nearly half of their potential ecological risk coefficients are higher than 160, which presents high environmental pollution impact on soil; Hg’s potential ecological risk coefficients are higher than 320, presenting the highest environmental pollution impact on soil; the comprehensive pollution indexes in coal, residue, and ash are relatively high, which means the pollution hazard potential to soil environment is high. (4) The ecological risk of the atmospheric solid suspended matter is relatively strong in coal utilization phase. The ecological risk of Cd and As in primary flue gas is both lower than net flue gas. The geoaccumulation indexes of Cd and Hg in primary flue gas and net flue gas are both higher than 5, presenting the very strong ecological risk; 50 % of the geoaccumulation index values of As are between 3 and 4, which has also presenting a strong ecological risk while Pb does not present the ecological risk characterization.
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