Health impacts of Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station, Maharashtra

With a capacity of 2,920 megawatts, the Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station (CSTPS), around 150kms south of Nagpur in Maharashtra – is one of the state’s biggest and oldest power stations in the state. Some units at CSTPS were inaugurated in the mid-80s while the latest addition was in 2016; with no unit complying with the latest norms set by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to capture sulphur dioxide, CSTPS is a significant source of pollution in the region.

It is time that strict emission controls are installed at newer units at CSTPS, and older, more polluting units are shut down to protect public health. Its operation resulted in 4,724 tonnes of particulate matter emissions, 1,03,010 tons of SO2, 28,417 tons of NO2 and 1,322 kgs of mercury in 2020, resulting in hazardous pollution levels.

The dispersion modelling and health impact assessment study for the power station found that the human cost of operating the station, especially without the mandated flue gas desulphurisation (FGD), has profoundly impacted the region’s health and economy.

Installing FGD will reduce SO2 emissions by up to 70% in older units and 92% in newer units; the analysis shows that failure to do so has caused eight lakh sick leave days, 1,300 lives lost, and 1,800 preterm births only in 2020. Continuing to operate the station at 85% plant load factor (PLF) will result in 11 lakh sick leave days, >2,700 asthma emergency room visits, >1,900 deaths, and >2,650 preterm births every year.

The study shows CSTPS caused 34,000 days of absenteeism in Chandrapur and 30,000 in Nagpur, along with 85 premature deaths in Chandrapur and 62 deaths in Nagpur, respectively.

The assessment also suggests that retiring just unit no 3&4 at CSTPS would have avoided around 4900 work absence/sick leave days, >11 asthma emergency room visits, 11 deaths, and 11 preterm births in Nagpur alone during 2020, based on actual emission and operational levels. Another >6500 work absence days, >15 asthma emergency room visits, 17 deaths and 15 preterm births could have been avoided in Chandrapur if the two units were shut down in 2020. Air pollution from these coal units (unit no 3&4) spreads across a larger region up to hundreds of km away, resulting in more than 1,15,000 work absence days, >350 asthma emergency room visits, >250 deaths, and >350 preterm births.

Installation of FGD at just CSTPS has the potential to reduce the economic damage by > ₹ 1650 crore/year, showing huge avoided health/economic costs through the capture of SO2 emissions.

Based on these findings, the older units (Units 3 & 4) must be shut down, and the remaining operational units should be fitted with FGDs to capture SO2 emissions to prevent avoidable impacts on the region’s health and economy.