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Pollution Threats from Delhi's thermal power plants

Written By Gopal Krishna on Monday, April 20, 2009 | 3:46 AM

Threats to environmental health from the thermal power plants emerge from 10-13% of air pollution that is contributed by them. The main pollutants are stack emissions; fly ash generations and fugitive emission in coal handling. All three thermal power plants of Delhi need better use of their emission control devices and the fly ash that they generate. Delhi is the fourth most polluted city in the world in terms of Suspended Particulate Matter, according to the World Health Organization.

Heavy metals like Mercury is released by power plants into the air and settles into water, where microorganisms convert it into methylmercury, a toxin that accumulates in fish, shellfish, and animals that eat fish. Human exposure to methylmercury usually occurs when people eat these foods, but the health effects of mercury exposure depend upon the route, amount, and duration of exposure, as well as the person's age and health. Greater emissions from power plants and other industries in the past century have increased the amount of environmental mercury; because mercury does not break down easily into less harmful substances, it remains hazardous indefinitely.

Power generation is one important source of pollutants such as mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulate matter that can affect the respiratory, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems and cause pregnancy complications. Air pollutants are often invisible and travel almost undetected.

Unmindful of the health hazards, the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India is promoting the use of flyash material in various construction applications through its Fly ash Mission.

A paper titled "Environmental impact of coal utilisation in thermal power plant" notes that "Radon is a colourless, odourless but noble gas, which is radioactive and ubiquitously present. It poses grave health hazards not only to uranium miners but also people living in normal houses and buildings and at work place like coal mines, cement industry, thermal power plants etc. Coal, a naturally occurring fossil fuel is burnt in conventional power plants to met out about 72% of the electricity needs in our country. It was lesser known hitherto until recently that the fly ash which is a by product of burnt coal is a potential radioactive air pollutant and it modifies radiation exposure. The increased interest in measuring radon concentration in the environment of thermal power plants is due to its health hazards and environmental pollution caused due to the burning of coal in thermal power plants. The radon levels were measured by using Solid State Nuclear Track Detectors, LR-115 type-II, exposed for 100 days at various locations in the thermal power plant. The radon levels measured at some locations were moderately high and thus not very safe from health point of view." The paper was published in Journal of Punjab Academy of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology.

It would have citizens believe that the erstwhile waste of the power plants has become a manna for the building industry struggling to seek environment friendly, high quality and affordable alternatives. The use of fly ash bock technology has shown a way to reduce the consumption of energy and the use of scarce agricultural soil required for the production of traditional fired bricks and at the same time provides a solution to the environmental hazard of dumping ash as has been the practice of most power plants in India.

Three of these coal-based plants, which have a total generation capacity of 1,085 MW alone, make up for more than 10 per cent of the total pollutants.

It is an acknowledged fact by now that the Indraprastha plant, the Badarpur thermal power station and the Raj Ghat power station are not at all environment-friendly.

Even the Central Electricity Authority has advised the Delhi Government to hasten the process of closing down the Indraprastha plant.

Indraprastha plant uses 800 gm of coal to produce one unit of electricity whereas Dadri, another thermal plant, uses 625 gm of coal for the same purpose.

The heat rate -- a measurement of a power plant’s thermal efficiency -- of the Indraprastha plant is greater than Dadri and Badarpur.

“The Dadri and Badarpur plants are far more efficient than the Indraprastha plant. They consume less coal, generate more power and release far lesser quantities of carbon dioxide,” say sources.

The Delhi Government says that it cannot shut down the Indraprastha plant till the gas-based plant in Bawana starts functioning has failed to pacify the CEA.

Meanwhile although legislations refer to need to "conserve top soil and prevent the dumping and disposal of fly ash discharged from coal or lignite based thermal power plants on land" but it allows manufacture of bricks utilizing fly ash within a specified radius of fifty kilometers from coal or lignite based thermal power plants.

Coal-burning power plants in the United States account for about 40% of domestic mercury emissions. According to the EPA, about 50 tons of mercury are emitted annually by burning coal to produce electric power. The EPA estimates that approximately one-quarter of this amount, or 12.5 tons of mercury, accumulates within the contiguous 48 states, while the rest is dispersed beyond our borders. Likewise, it's thought that more than half of the mercury deposited in the United States originates from abroad. Another important domestic source of mercury released into the air is the burning of hazardous wastes.

Coal-fired power plants emit more than 100 times more sulfur dioxide and three and a half times more nitrogen oxides than natural gas–fired plants per megawatt hour of electricity generated. In addition to air emissions, coal-fired plants produce more than 115 million tons per year of “coal combustion wastes” such as fly ash that contain metal oxides and alkalis, which typically are buried in landfills. While not federally regulated as hazardous waste, they have raised concerns about their effect on groundwater quality.

The Indian legislations refer to Delhi High Court's order dated 25th August, 1999 in CWP No. 2145/99 Centre for Public Interest Litigation, Delhi v/s Union of India wherein it directed that the Central Government to publish the final notification in respect of fly ash on or before 26th October, 1999.

In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (1), read with clause (v) of sub-section (2) of section 3 and section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (29 of 1986); and in pursuance of the orders of the Hon’ble High Court, Delhi stated above, the Central Government hereby issues the following directions which shall come into force on the publication of this notification, namely; -


Use of fly ash, bottom ash or pond ash in the manufacture of bricks and other construction Activities. –

No person shall within a radius of fifty kilometers from coal or lignite based thermal power plants, manufacture clay bricks or tiles or blocks for use in construction activities without mixing at least 25 per cent of ash (fly ash, bottom ash or pond ash) with soil on weight-to-weight basis.

The authority for ensuring the use of specified quantity of ash as per para (1) above shall be the concerned Regional Officer of the State Pollution Control Board or the Pollution Control Committee as the case may be. In case of non-compliance, the said authority, in addition to cancellation of consent order issued to establish the brick kiln, shall move the district administration for cancellation of mining lease. The cancellation of mining lease shall be decided after due hearing. To enable the said authority to verify the actual use of ash, the thermal power plant shall maintain month-wise records of ash made available to each brick kiln.

In case of non-availability of ash from thermal power plant in sufficient quantities as certified by the said power plant, the stipulation under para (1) shall be suitably modified (waived/relaxed) by the concerned State/Union Territory Government.

Each coal or lignite based thermal power plant shall constitute a dispute settlement committee which shall include the General Manager of the thermal power plant and a representative of All India Brick and Tile Manufacture’s Federation (AIBTMF). Such a committee shall ensure unhindered loading and transport of ash without any undue loss of time. Any unresolved dispute shall be dealt with by a State/Union Territory level committee to be set up by State/Union Territory level committee to be set up by State/Union Territory Government comprising Member Secretary of the State Pollution Control Board/Pollution Control Committee, representatives of Ministry of Power in the State/Union Territory Government and a representative of AIBTMF.

2. Utilization of ash by Thermal Power Plant. –

All coal or lignite based thermal power plants shall utilize the ash generated in the power plants as follows:-

Every coal or lignite based thermal power plant shall make available ash, for at least ten years from the date of publication of this notification, without any payment or any other consideration, for the purpose of manufacturing ash-based products such as cement, concrete blocks, bricks, panels or any other material or for construction of roads, embankments, dams, dykes or for any other construction activity.

Every coal or lignite based thermal power plant commissioned subject to environmental clearance conditions stipulating the submission of an action a period of nine years from the publication of this notification, phase out the dumping and disposal of fly ash on land in accordance with the plan. Such an action plan shall provide for thirty per cent of the fly ash utilization, within three years from the publication of this notification with further increase in utilization by at least ten per cent points every year progressively for the next six years to enable utilization of the entire fly ash generated in the power plant at least by the end of ninth year. Progress in this regard shall be reviewed after five years.

Every coal or lignite based thermal power plant not covered by para (2) above shall, within a period of fifteen years from the date of publication of this notification, phase out the utilization of fly ash in accordance with an action plan to be drawn up by the power plants. Such action plan shall provide for twenty per cent of fly ash utilization within three years from the date of publication of this notification, with further increase in utilization every year progressively for the next twelve years to enable utilization of the entire fly ash generated in the power plant.

All action plans prepared by coal or lignite based thermal power plants in accordance with sub-para (2) and (3) of para 2 of this notification, shall be submitted to the Central Pollution, shall be submitted to the Central Pollution Control Board, concerned State Pollution Control Board/Committee and concerned regional office of the Ministry of Environment and Forests within a period of six months from the date of publication of this notification.

The Central and State Government Agencies, the State Electricity Boards, the National Thermal Power Corporation and the management of the thermal power plants shall facilitate in making available land available land, electricity and water for manufacturing activities and provide access to the ash lifting area for promoting and setting up of ash-based production units in the proximity of the area where ash is generated by the power plant.

Annual implementation report providing information about the compliance of provisions in this notification shall be submitted by the 30th day of April every year to the Central Pollution Control Board, concerned State Pollution Control Board/Committee and the concerned Regional Office of the Ministry of Environment and Forests by the coal or lignite based thermal power plants.

3. Specification for use of ash-based products. -

Manufacture of ash-based products such as cement, concrete blocks. Bricks, panels or any other material or the use of ash in construction activity such as in road laying, embankments or use as landfill to reclaim low lying areas including back filling in abandoned mines or pitheads or for any other use shall be carried out in accordance with specifications and guidelines laid down by the Bureau of Indian Standards, Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee, Central Road Research Institute, Roorkee, Central Road Research Institute, New Delhi, Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council, New Delhi, Central Public Works Department, State Public Works Departments and other Central and State Government agencies.

The Central Public Works Department, Public Works Departments in the State/Union Territory Governments, Development Authorities, Housing Boards, National Highway Authority of India and other construction agencies including those in the private sector shall also prescribe the use of ash and ash-based products in their respective schedules of specifications and construction applications, including appropriate standards and codes of practice, within a period of four months from the publication of this notification.

All local authorities shall specify in their respective building by-laws and regulations the use of ash and ash-based products and construction techniques in building materials, roads, embankments or for any other use within a period of four months from the date of publication of this notification.
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