Monday, August 20, 2012

WIO Update I on Hindalco's Ash Pond Breach: 20th August 2012

Pollution Control Board is playing with community health and water sources

A team of Water Initiatives Odisha(WIO) consisting of its Convenor Ranjan Panda and renowned environmental lawyer Bibhu Prasad Tripathy along with other members made a visit today to the affected areas by the breach of Hindalco company’s ash pond.  To their utter dismay, they found out that the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OPCB), despite knowing the gravity of the problem chose to remain silent until the ash pond breached and caused severe damage to crop fields amounting to about 50 acres directly and at least 10 thousand acres by polluting the canal of the Sambalpur distributary.  The team found out that it is in fact the OPCB which has facilitated the disaster and still continues to remain silent as the company is found to be doing knee jerk patch up works.  The team found out that the company is just doing an eye wash through patch work and there is every possibility that the faulty ash pond is going to breach in near future again.

“If the Odisha Pollution Control Board is really serious about controlling pollution, it should have found out the faults in the ash pond design during regular monitoring. Such huge breaches don't happen accidentally. So, the recent breaches are not accident but deliberate ones happening with supports from the pollution control boad officials,” found out the team.

Fly ash from coal fired power contains several toxic elements.  They are: arsenic, beryllium, boron, cadmium, chromium, chromium VI, cobalt, lead, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, selenium, strontium, thallium, and vanadium, along with dioxins and PAH compounds. These tox elements now have been released to local water sources and farms. There are no studies to find out their exact amounts. So, such breaches have serious health issues for the local communities.  World-wide there have been evidences of thousands of people getting critical health problems due to pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Just giving away compensation to people for spilling of fly ash into farm land is not enough.  The company must be held accountable for the toxicity it has spread to soil, water, human and livestocks.  It is an environmental crime.

Fly ash has severe radiation impacts and the National Green Tribunal has already ordered the government to consider these impacts while permitting any thermal power plant.  However, the state government has turned a deaf ear to this.  The government must immediately do a thorough analysis of radioactive impact of Hindalco’s ash pond breach in the soil and water of the locality and charge the company with severe punishment.

The Odisha State Pollution Control Board ordered closure of the Hindalco power plant on 18th August. But the company is yet to act on it. Sources point out that out of the 367.5 MW of captive power that is being generated burning coal for the plant, it has only shut down the unit generating 67.5 MW. This is too little and too late.

The recent ash pond breaches point out to a larger policy issue in the state.  Almost all the power plants in the state are getting permission to run on the basis of undervalued calculation of land requirement. In reality almost all of them need more land for disposing off the fly ash.  However, to get clearance easily they give an undervalued account of land requirement.  That’s the reason each power plant of the state is encroaching upon common spaces as well as private land to dispose their ash dumps illegally and in environmentally hazardous manner.  Lack of any clear cut policy in the state that takes into account the site specific as well as cumulative impact of fly ash pollution makes it easier for the power plants to flout environmental laws.  The state government has been urged upon to immediately come up with a clear cut policy on this issue in discussion with the people and experts.  Without this such cases will keep repeating and the environmental criminals will keep running scot free.

For further details, please contact:

Ranjan Panda

Convenor, Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO)
Cell: 94370-50103

Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) is a state level coalition of civil society organisations, farmers, academia, media and other concerned, which has been working on water, environment and climate change issues in the state for more than two decades now.

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