In a first, the effects on human health and the environment will feature as part of mandatory clearances necessary to grant Environment Clearances (EC) for new thermal power plants.
The criteria will apply not only to coal- and lignite-based thermal power plants, but also to waste-to-energy plants that also pose a significant health burden on local population and communities. A notification issued by Impact Assessment Division of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) specified new conditions that now call for a baseline health status within the study area. These also seek mitigation measures to be taken to address endemic diseases.
The notification also prescribes a biannual health check up of all workers and instructions to study the effects of “chronic exposure to noise” which may lead to adverse health effect, and assessment of health impacts due to air polluting agents. These form part of “standard conditions” that are considered by the Expert Appraisal Committee at the time of considering proposals for grant of ECs.
The MoEF has also put in a condition to look into the impact of operation of power plants on agricultural crops and large water bodies once in two years and has asked that an institute of repute be engaged for the purpose. “The study shall also include impact due to heavy metals associated with emission from power plant,” the notification states.
The MoEF stipulates “specific and general conditions” while granting EC, which are recommended by the expert appraisal committee. “To standardise these conditions, the Ministry has initiated the exercise for revision of these conditions across all the sectors,” the notification states.
Shweta Narayan, coordinator from the Health Energy Initiative, India, studied communities living around coal mines and thermal power plants in Rajgarh districts in Chhattisgarh. The report her team prepared was submitted to a high-level committee formed by the Ministry of Coal and the MOEF.
“In Chhattisgarh, we looked at communities who lived in a five km radius from coal mines and thermal power plants and found that several complained of respiratory problems, skin conditions and mental health issues. We also found contaminants in the environment and heavy metals in the air, water, soil and sediments,” she told The Indian Express.
“While this notification is an important first step, it is still short of a full health impact assessment that is needed before granting environmental clearances,” she said.