Much is talked about the air pollution caused due to thermal power plants. However, a study — released on Thursday — has found out that these units are also responsible for water pollution as recorded from the discharge from two thermal power plants in Nagpur district that has polluted both ground water and surface water.
The new study has revealed extensive and rampant pollution in the areas around Maharashtra State Power Generation Company (MahaGenco’s) 2,400 MW Koradi and 1,340 MW Khaparkheda thermal power plants in Nagpur district with surface and ground water both contaminated with toxic metals such as mercury, arsenic, aluminium, lithium etc.
It has also recorded widespread contamination of air, water and soil due to fly ash.
Titled ‘Polluted Power: How Koradi And Khaparkheda Thermal Power Stations Are Impacting The Environment’, the study has pointed out that the two plants as well as their ash ponds are discharging effluents directly into local streams and rivers, including the Kolar and Kanhan rivers.
As many as 18 of the 21 villages where survey was carried out are affected due to fly ash deposits in various parts of the village, including water bodies, houses, agricultural fields, open spaces and vehicles.
The study has been carried out by Centre for Sustainable Development (CFSD), Nagpur, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Pune, and ASAR Social Impact Advisors Pvt. Ltd. with the involvement of the local community member.
Almost every water sample, in every season including monsoon, failed to pass the standards set for drinking water by the Bureau of Indian Standards, the IS 10500: 2012 (acceptable limits) and other relevant standards, it found out.
Several water samples had toxic elements like mercury, arsenic, lithium, aluminium etc. exceeding the safe limits by 10-15 times; high levels of turbidity, hardness, alkalinity, and total dissolved solids (TDS) were discovered in both surface and groundwater sources and not just these, the samples even had Antimony, Aluminium, Arsenic, Boron, Fluoride, Iron, Manganese, Magnesium, Mercury, Molybdenum, Lithium Lead, and Selenium among the elements found in high amounts.
“There has been a long history of pollution due to these power plants and their related infrastructure like ash ponds. There has been a complete failure of official agencies in addressing the problem, prompting us to initiate this study,” said Director, CFSD and co-author, Leena Buddhe.
The Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change has given terms of references (ToRs) for the further expansion of Koradi TPS’ two units (660 megawatt).
“This is a major concern as it will lead to even more pollution,” said Buddhe.
Co-author of the study and coordinator, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Shripad Dharmadhikary, said the study has revealed how badly the water resources of the area have been polluted by the Koradi and Khaparkheda power plants.
“Till now, air pollution due to the plants had received some attention, but detailed analysis of water pollution was not available. Our study is probably the first such attempt to comprehensively map out the water contamination due to these power plants,” he said.
The study was based on a detailed questionnaire based survey of the villages in the surrounding areas; collecting and testing water samples from surface and groundwater locations in the area and direct observations, a release from the study team said.
Water samples were collected from 25 locations including surface and groundwater (across rivers like Kanhan and Kolar) and treatment facilities.
Fly ash samples were collected from five locations, including ash ponds of the two power plants. Detailed village-level surveys were done for 21 villages, as well with a similar number of individual households and farmers. Information through discussions was also collected from Nagpur city wards that are located nearer in the direction of the power plants.
The contaminated ground and surface water is being used by local communities extensively, for all purposes including drinking (with and without treatment), other domestic use, bathing, washing clothes, fishing, irrigation and water for cattle. This has serious implications for their well-being as these pollutants are known to have many adverse impacts on human and cattle health.
“As a result of the spread of fly ash in the air, villagers in this area suffer from respiratory illnesses such as asthma, especially during the summer and winter seasons. During this period, itching of the skin and burning of the eyes can also be an issue. Residents have been dealing with this issue for a long time,” local physician from Khasala, one of the villages surveyed, Dr. Nikhil Bhure said.
The team strongly suggested all the pollution-related damage be cleaned up under the supervision of a commission comprising local community and civil society members, as well as independent experts.