Emissions from coal-fired plants across the country may have resulted in thousands of premature deaths and condemned millions more to various respiratory ailments every year, says a study by the groups Conservation Action Trust (CAT), Urban Emissions and Greenpeace.
A first-of-its-kind study has found that exposure to particulate matter or PM10, released from 111 coal plants between 2011 and 2012, has resulted in an estimated 80,000 to 1,15,000 premature deaths and 20.9 million asthma cases. The emissions are also to blame for symptoms of respiratory illness in 625 million and chest discomfort in another 8.4 million people.
The premature deaths include those from ailments such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infections, ischemic heart disease, and cancers of trachea, bronchitis, and lung. Particulate matter comprises fine particles and once inhaled, they lodge deep in the human lungs and are, hence, dangerous.
"Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports for coal plants always state that there will be no health impact on those living around the plant since the project proponent will install the latest pollution control equipments," said Debi Goenka, founder, CAT. "We hope the Union environment ministry takes notes of the health impacts and tightens norms."
The study 'Coal based thermal power plants in India - An assessment of atmospheric emissions, particulate pollution and health impacts' also found that morbidity and health problems cost both citizens and the government an estimated US$ 3.2 billion to 4.6 billion (Rs16,000 crore - Rs23,000 crore) during the same period.
The study found that Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Indo-Gangetic plain suffered the most.
With coal-fed power plants contributing 66% of India's current electricity and plans to add more, researchers said health impacts will increase significantly if Indian policymakers do not act.
"Indian emission standards ilag behind those in the major developed and developing countries," said Sarath Guttikunda, director, UrbanEmissions.info.