Prior studies have measured elevated ambient concentrations of hazardous metals in Beijing, attributable to coal combustion. The 2008 Olympic Games led to an intense investment in air pollution controls at the major power plants in the region, accounting for 30% of coal combustion in Beijing. Recently Chinese coal beds have been characterized in the World Coal Quality Index, facilitating the development of trace metal emission factors for Beijing coals. This study quantifies the relative value of the power plant air pollution controls in terms of public health risk from chronic exposure to trace metals. Ambient concentrations from power plants were estimated using an atmospheric dispersion model (CALPUFF), outlining spatial and temporal variations. The following toxic, refractory metals were evaluated for health risk using the USEPA Integrated Risk Information System: antimony, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, manganese, nickel, and selenium. Stringent use of power plant air pollution controls significantly reduces population risk, averting a cancer risk of 1 in 5,000. However, other sources of coal combustion, such as industrial and household uses, are more relevant to public health than power plant emissions. Coal washing has potential to reduce the hazard from these diffuse sources and avert a greater number of potential cancer cases. © 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.