Nagpur’s fly ash problem

Fly ash discharges into local rivers and streams, says study (Image: R Mohankar, Wikimedia Commons)
Fly ash discharges into local rivers and streams, says study (Image: R Mohankar, Wikimedia Commons)
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The 2400 MW Koradi and 1340 MW Khaparkheda thermal power plants, both just outside Nagpur city, in Maharashtra have been important for the Maharashtra State Power Generation Company (MAHAGENCO) in meeting its goal of providing adequate power to the state.

Yet, they have failed to meet their own goal of improving the quality of life for the people who live and work in the power plants’ vicinity. The two power plants along with the related infrastructure including two ash ponds of the Koradi TPS and one ash pond of Khaparkheda TPS have a long history of causing rampant pollution in the area.

This pollution has been extensively documented by media, by civil society groups, by official agencies and by the local communities, for at least a decade. This includes reports of discharges of untreated water directly into nallas, high levels of noise, high levels of sulphur dioxide and particulate matter emissions, fly ash discharges into local rivers and streams, fly ash being blown in the wind causing intense dust pollution, fly ash depositing on crops, horticulture and vegetable, severally impacting the yields and in turn livelihoods of farmers and fly ash settling on water bodies and water sources.

Impacts have also been recorded in Nagpur city. The severe health impacts of this pollution like widespread respiratory ailments, asthma, etc., have also been recorded.

Yet, no meaningful action has been taken by the authorities. On the contrary, the MoEF&CC has given ToRs for the further expansion of Koradi TPS with two 660 MW units, which will lead to even more pollution.

Given this, the Centre for Sustainable Development, Nagpur, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Pune, and Asar Social Impact Advisors Pvt. Ltd. came together to carry out a comprehensive assessment with the involvement of the local communities and suggest ways in which the issues could be addressed.

This study ‘Polluted power: How Koradi & Khaperkheda Thermal Power Stations are Impacting the Environment’ had three components. One was a detailed questionnaire-based survey of the villages in the surrounding areas. The second was the collection and testing of water samples from surface and groundwater locations in the area, as well as fly ash samples, to be carried out in three seasons of winter, summer and monsoon. The third part was the direct observations by the study team.

Water samples were collected from 25 locations including surface and groundwater and treatment facilities. Fly ash samples were collected from 5 locations including ash ponds of the two power plants and a couple of households.

Detailed village-level surveys were done for 21 villages, as well as a similar number of individual households and farmers. Information through discussions was also collected from Nagpur city wards that are located towards the power plants.

The assessment shows that the entire study area around the Koradi and Khaparkheda thermal power plants is facing rampant and unchecked pollution, affecting air, surface and groundwater and soil.

Airborne fly ash is leading to extensive air pollution. This airborne fly ash is also depositing over a large area on houses, open spaces, water bodies and agricultural fields. This is fly ash that is being blown from dry parts of ash ponds, as well other sources like fugitive emissions from inside the plant, and from the stacks of the power plants.

Koradi and Khaparkheda thermal power plants are both discharging effluents directly into local streams and rivers including the Kolar and Kanhan rivers, and this includes fly ash mixed effluents.

Leakages, direct discharges and leaching of water from ash ponds is further contaminating water bodies, including groundwater.

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, with the sole exceptions of samples from Water ATM output. Surface, as well as groundwater sources, are found affected by high levels of turbidity, hardness, alkalinity and total dissolved solids (TDS) which exceed the limits.

The study found several water samples with toxic elements like mercury, arsenic, lithium, aluminium etc., exceeding the safe limits by 10–15 times. Mercury is among the most toxic substances known to mankind. Arsenic is associated with cancers of the liver and bladder.

Fly ash from the two power plants itself contains many of these pollutants including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, mercury, selenium, cobalt, copper, nickel, zinc, fluoride as well as oil and grease. These can directly enter the lungs as fly ash dust is inhaled, as well as leach into water when fly ash mixes with water.

These are elements that can have very serious impacts on human health as well as the health of cattle and on the ecology.

Many of the surveyed villages reported health issues like difficulty in breathing, respiratory diseases like bronchitis and asthma, cough and cold, throat infection, irritation in the eyes and eye infections, skin problems, skeletal problems, etc.

Skeletal problems were also reported in cattle. All of these ailments can be linked to the contaminants that our study identified.

The study also found that several areas on the outskirts of Nagpur city were being affected by the deposition of fly ash. In spite of such clear evidence of pollution from the power plants, the concerned agencies, including the MPCB and the MoEFCC have totally failed in their responsibility to control and address the issue. This is a gross dereliction of duty by the thermal power plants as well as the regulatory agencies. Moreover, they have shown complete indifference to local people who have been repeatedly raising the issue and petitioning the authorities. Most local people including elected representatives like the sarpanches told us that their letters went unanswered and they were not even given appointments to meet.

Based on our assessment, the study recommends that:

  • MAHAGENCO take immediate steps to stop all pollution, especially the discharge of fly ash in local water bodies, and the dispersal of dry fly ash as dust and particles, in a time-bound manner.
  • MPCB and MoEF&CC must immediately put in place a mechanism to monitor this plan and must take strict and quick action, including suspending the work of the power plant in case pollution persists.
  • A committee of key representatives/ sarpanches of the villages in the vicinity, along with representatives of civil society groups and independent experts should be set up which will monitor the progress from the local people’s point of view.
  • MAHAGENCO should also ensure clean-up of places already polluted.
  • Both Koradi and Khaparkheda TPS should ensure strict implementation of all legally binding pollution control laws, including 100% utilisation of fly ash.
  • Until the issue of pollution is fully addressed and clean air, water and soil/land is ensured, there should be no further addition to the pollution load and installation of new units at Koradi and the new ash pond at Nandgaon should be put on hold.

The full report is available here

Post By: Amita Bhaduri