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Toxicity from thermal plants a curse: Expert


Jalandhar, August 24

Setting up of a large number of thermal plants can prove to be a curse for Punjab. Asserting this, Dr HS Virk, a nuclear physicist and director of a research centre in a local institute, on Friday said the latest scientific studies made in leading international institutions had proved that some highly toxic substances such as mercury and uranium were released in the environment because of the burning of coal.

About 120 lakh tonnes coal will be burnt daily when all seven thermal plants become operational in the state, and in the process thousands of tonnes of fly ash will be generated. Besides three already operational thermal plants at Bathinda, Lehra and Ropar, two are coming up and the other two are awaiting some technical clearances from the Union government. The Bathinda area faces health hazards due to the high uranium content in the environment.

Quoting a latest study, published by Science Daily, made by Duke University environmental engineers, Dr Virk, who did his doctorate in nuclear physics from France, said owing to the burning of coal, mercury was released into the environment. Amrika Deonarine, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, had found that organic matter and chemical compounds containing sulphur, known as sulfides, could readily bind to form mercury sulfide nano-particles, said Dr Virk. This particular harmful form of the element, known as methyl mercury, was a potent toxin for nerve cells.

When ingested by living beings, it was not excreted and builds up in tissues or organs, said Dr Virk. There could also be other harmful effects of mercury ingestion on living creatures, he added.

“There are many ways mercury gets into environment, with the primary sources being the combustion of coal, the refining of such metals as gold and other non-ferrous metals and in the gases released during volcanic eruptions. The airborne mercury from these sources eventually lands on lakes or ponds and contaminates water and sediments,” states the study.

Quoting another study published by the United States Geological Survey, Dr Virk said, “It has been reported that the burning of coal releases uranium, thorium and their highly active decay products in the environment.” He said the US Environmental Protecting Agency was worried about radioactive elements from fly ash as these can raise the content of radon and uranium in drinking water.

Already uranium content has been found up to a worrisome level in certain parts especially in Bathinda Thermal Plant power colony. Bathinda is known as the cancer belt of Punjab now.

Dr Virk said ironically Punjab had opposed the installing of nuclear power plants in the state whereas it was all for setting up thermal plants, which produce coal ash that is more radioactive than nuclear waste.

He said it would be more proper to take into account all scientific studies made on burning of coal, fly ash, etc before opting recklessly for thermal plants.

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