Coal plant emitting pollution. Burning coal is a leading cause of smog, acid rain, global warming, and air toxics. In an average year, a typical coal plant generates: 3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary human cause of global warming--as much carbon dioxide as cutting down 161 million trees. 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2), which causes acid rain that damages forests, lakes, and buildings, and forms small airborne particles that can penetrate deep into lungs. 500 tons of small airborne particles, which can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and premature death, as well as haze obstructing visibility. 10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx), as much as would be emitted by half a million late-model cars. NOx leads to formation of ozone (smog) which inflames the lungs, burning through lung tissue making people more susceptible to respiratory illness. 720 tons of carbon monoxide (CO), which causes headaches and place additional stress on people with heart disease. 220 tons of hydrocarbons.