Study: Coal-fired power may kill 30,000 people over 30 years in Chittagong

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The fisheries industries, agriculture, and ecology will also be destroyed

Air pollution from coal-based power plants in Chittagong region may cause 30,139 deaths in 30 years, as per a recent study.

The report, titled, “Air Quality, Health and Environmental Impacts of the Proposed Coal Power Cluster in Chittagong region, Bangladesh,” was jointly unveiled by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (Crea) and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa) at a webinar on Tuesday.

The high levels of air pollution in Bangladesh are currently putting the population at an elevated risk from the unfolding Covid-19 epidemic, said the study.

The development of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants cluster – with the total capacity of 8,720MW – is most likely to increase vulnerability to diseases in Bangladesh, according to the study.

Moreover the fisheries industries, agriculture, and ecology will also be destroyed.

It said air pollutant emissions from 16 units of nine plants would be responsible for a projected 20,789 to 45,467 deaths (approx 30,139) in the region over an operating life of 30 years.

The study was prepared after scrutinizing EIA (environmental impact assessment) reports of the Matarbari 1 Power Projects, assuming that all plants adopt similar emission limits.

Of the projected approximate 30,139 deaths, around 8,000 would be due to ischaemic heart diseases,  more than  6,000 due to stroke and more than 4,000 due to chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. Almost 3,000 deaths due to lower respiratory infections  and more than 1,000 people would die from lung cancer.

Other health impacts include 26,787 asthma emergency room visits of adults, 1,4230 of children, 32,409 new cases of asthma in children. Around 24,431 pre-term births, 17 million days of work absence (sick leave) and 47,220 years lived with disability related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and stroke, according to the study.

Crea lead analyst Lauri Myllyvirta, while presenting the study findings to the media, said: “No cumulative air quality and health impact assessment, no assessment of mercury and heavy metal impacts, and no meaningful air quality measurements were made in the projects.”

“The emission level adopted for the Matarbari first project allows up to 25 times as much pollution as legally allowed in China, India, or the European Union,” the expert added.

Power Division denies claims

When asked about a similar study findings on Payra plants cluster in May this year, Power Division Secretary Dr Sultan Ahmed said it was too early to comment on the extent of air pollution or other health hazards likely to be posed by the power plants.

“We can talk about pollution after analyzing the impacts on neighbouring areas, only after the plants come into operation,” he said.

He also added: “The Department of Environment [DoE] issues clearance for any plant on the basis of proposed model and parameters in which concern over air pollution is also maintained. If the power plants apply, in reality, the technology they proposed in their reports while obtaining clearance [from DoE], it is not likely to cause pollution to a larger extent.”

Effects on tourist sites and protected areas

These plants are to affect Cox’s Bazar sea beach, national parks, and wildlife sanctuaries by depositing mercury and fly ash.

At least 182 tons of fly ash and 32kg of mercury will be deposited annually in four wildlife sanctuaries, including Sangu Wildlife Sanctuary, five national parks including Kaptai National Park, along with Bangabandhu Safari Park and the world’s longest Cox’s Bazar sea beach.

These projects would emit an estimated 600-800kg of mercury per year into the air, of which one third (170-290kg) would be deposited into land and freshwater ecosystems in the region, affecting cropland and fisheries in particular, the study claimed.

This deposited mercury will contaminate fish in an area of 1,500sqkm to the north and northeast of the plants with a population of approximately 1.5 million people.

Altogether the plants would emit 10,000 ton fly ash per year containing a long list of toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, zinc, cobalt, manganese, and calcium.

If the pollution controls are not operated properly, particulate matter (PM) emission could be as high as 100 times , SO2 emission up to six times as high, and nitrogen oxide (NOx) and mercury emission up to twice as high, the study read.

Prof Manzoorul Kibria of Chittagong University said: “Red crabs have already vanished. Three types of endangered dolphins, four species of turtles will face enormous crises to survive, and sandpiper birds will be extinct. Moheshkhali is the only area where these particular birds are seen.”

Impact on fish, agriculture economy

Prof Kibria said: “Nearby marine fishing zones will be contaminated due to emission from these power plants. As a result, fish export will not be possible as no country will import mercury-containing fish. Shrimp farming will be impossible. Moreover mangrove forest will be destroyed fully which will also destroy the biodiversity and ecology of the Moheshkhali-Sonadia region.”

“About 75% salt of the country is produced in Cox’s Bazar. Due to the development of the power plants, Bangladesh has to depend on imports to meet the demand of salt. Similarly crab export will be halted,” he added.

Bapa General Secretary Sharif Jamil moderated the report launching program where Rasheda K Chowdhury, former advisor to the caretaker government, presided over the session.

Bapa Executive Vice President Dr Abdul Matin, Lock Haven University Prof Mohamed Khalequzzaman, Doctors’ Platform for People’s Health convener Dr Rashid E Mahbub also spoke at the program, among others.  

All the speakers urged the government to return to renewable energy, of gas-based power production, and give up coal-fired power production.

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