India’s breakneck pace of industrialization is causing a public health crisis with 80,000 to 120,000 premature deaths and 20 million new asthma cases a year caused by air pollution from coal power plants, a Greenpeace report says.
The first study of the health impact of India’s dash for coal, conducted by a former World Bank head of pollution, says the plants cost hospitals US$3.3 billion to US$4.6 billion a year — a figure certain to rise as the coal industry struggles to keep up with demand for electricity.
The Delhi and Kolkata regions were found to be the most polluted, but Mumbai, western Maharashtra, Eastern Andhra Pradesh and the Chandrapur-Nagpur region in Vidarbha were all affected.
The study, which took data from 111 major power plants, says there is barely any regulation or inspection of pollution.
“Hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved and millions of asthma attacks, heart attacks, hospitalizations, lost workdays and associated costs to society could be avoided, with the use of cleaner fuels [and] stricter emission standards, and the installation and use of the technologies required to achieve substantial reductions in these pollutants,” the report said.
“There is a conspicuous lack of regulations for power plant stack emissions. Enforcement of what standards do exist, is nearly non-existent,” it says.
India is the world’s second -largest coal burner after China, generating 210 gigawatt of electricity a year, mostly from coal. However, it is likely to become the largest if plans to generate a further 160 gigawatt annually are approved.
“Thousands of lives can be saved every year if India tightens its emissions standards, introduces limits for pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury, and institutes mandatory monitoring of emissions at plant stacks,” said the report’s author, Sarath Guttikunda, a former head of the World Bank’s pollution division.
Vinuta Gopal of Greenpeace said: “The ongoing coal expansion is irrational and dangerous. Coal mining is destroying India’s forests, tribal communities and endangered species, and now we know the pollution it emits is killing thousands.”
“Coal has failed to deliver energy security. We need a moratorium on new coal plants and ambitious policy incentives to unlock the huge potential India has in efficiency measures, wind and solar,” he said.