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Gujarat coal power plants highest polluters of deadliest particulate matter compared to all Indian states

By Rajiv Shah
While Gujarat may have topped Indian states in regularizing power supply to urban and rural areas, data released by a new report, “Coal Kills: Health Impacts of Air Pollution from India’s Coal Power Expansion” suggest this may have led to unprecedented health hazard in the state. The report has found that as of 2014 Gujarat’s coal-fired power plants, with a capacity of 15,900 MW, are emitting in air highest quantity of the deadliest PM2.5, the most dangerous particulate matter (PM), compared to all other state. PM2.5 is known to get absorbed deep in the lungs, causing “aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, lung cancer, cardiac problems, and premature death.”
According to top international environmental body Greenpeace, “Particles less than 2.5 micrometers, approximately 1/30 the average width of a human hair, can lodge deeply into the lungs. Sources of fine particles include all types of combustion, including power plants, motor vehicles and residential wood burning. PM2.5 is readily inhalable and penetrates deep into the lungs. PM2.5 allow for many chemicals harmful to human health to be carried into our internal organs, causing a wide range of illnesses and mortality, including cancer (especially lung cancer), stroke and damage to unborn children.”
The “Coal Kills” report has been prepared by Conservation Action Trust (India), a non-profit organization, and Urban Emissions (Pvt Ltd), an independent research group. Its data show that Gujarat’s coal-fired power plants emit 107 kilotons of PM2.5, the tiny particles which were not recognized as dangerous until relatively recently, though now they are thought to be the most deadly form of air pollution.
The next highest emitter of PM2.5 following Gujarat is Maharashtra (78 kilotons) from its 21,300 MW coal-fired power plants. The report gives no explanation as to why Gujarat’s coal-fired power plants produce such high quantity of the deadly particular matter, though their capacity is considerably less than that of Maharashtra. Other states that produce high PM2.5 are Uttar Pradesh (64 kilotons), Rajasthan (62 kilotons), and Chhattigarh (57 kilotons).
Further data in the report go to suggest that, in Gujarat, plans have been worked out to increase the capacity of coal-fired power plants to 37,700 MW by the year 2030, which will be less than three states -- Chhattisgarh (50,100 MW), Odisha (44,300 MW) and Maharashtra (42,400 MW). Even then, as far as PM2.5 is concerned, Gujarat’s coal-fired power plants will be emitting in air 173 kilotons, highest of all other states – the next highest being Odisha (151 kilotons), Chhattisgarh (149 kilotons) and Maharashtra (144 kilotons).
Suggesting that it is possible to bring down the deadly PM2.5 levels and other hazardous emissions from the coal-fired power plants by 50 per cent through flue gas desulphurization (FGD) systems like limestone injection during the combustion process, the report states, “In India, only three coal-fired plants in Maharashtra and one in Karnataka operate FGD systems. According to the Ministry of Environments and Forests, installation of FGD is in process at NTPC Bongaigaon (Assam), NTPC Vindhyachal stage-V (Uttar Pradesh), and Adani Power Mundra Ph-III (Gujarat).”
The report further states, “The Kutch region, with its access to the largest ports, hosts the largest operational TPPs in the country. The Mundra cluster (Gujarat) has a combined generation capacity of 9620 MW between two privately run coal-fired power plants located within 5km of each other. Major cities in the Mundra region are Jamnagar (major industrial port), Rajkot, and Ahmedabad (300km away, with two coal-fired power plants of 1000MW in the city).”
Pointing towards the PM pollution in India, the report says, “The global burden of disease (GBD) for 1990-2010 quantified the trends of more than 200 causes of death and listed outdoor air pollution among the top 10 risks for India, with the outdoor PM2.5 and ozone pollution contributing to an estimated 695,000 premature deaths… The ambient PM pollution was ranked 6th in 1990 with 440,000 annual deaths, which moved to 5th overall in 2010. The morbidity and mortality burden of outdoor air pollution is particularly costly in terms of work days lost, lost productivity, and loss in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), which was approximately USD 23.4 billion and 1.7% of national GDP in 2009.”
The report also finds that Gujarat’s coal-fired power plants emit very high other hazardous gases in the air, including sulphur dioxide or SO2 (highest in India  at 309 kilotons); nitrogen oxides (NOx), which, at 275 kilotons, is less than five states (Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal); carbon monoxide (CO), which at 231 kilotons, is less than two states (Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh); and carbon dioxide (CO2) which at 152 million tons is less than two states (Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh). For details of health hazards of these gases click HERE.

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