Cox’s Bazar coal-fired power plants may cause 30,000 deaths: study

Emran Hossain | Updated at 01:19am on September 23, 2020

A study has estimated that the eight coal-fired power plants that Bangladesh is planning to build in Cox’s Bazar’s Matarbari and Moheshkhali would cause 30,000 pollution-related deaths over their operational life of 30 years.

The report of the study, conducted by Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), a Finnish research group, was released at a webinar, organised by the Bangladesh Environment Movement, on Tuesday.

It said that the proposed plants, spread over around 10 kilometres, would constitute the largest coal-power hub in the world with an installed capacity of 8,720 megawatts.

The study said that pollution caused by the plants would cause asthma among 32,000 children and 24,000 preterm births over their lifetime.

The pollution would also cause adult asthma patients to seek emergency treatment in hospitals 41,000 times and workers to seek 17 million days of sick leave.

Sickness triggered by the pollution such as obstructive pulmonary diseases, diabetes and stroke would weaken people’s health in a way that it would equal spending 47,000 years with disabilities.

The environmental impact assessment available for one of the power plants, Matarbari phase-1 project, shows that authorities have allowed pollution 25 times the levels allowed in India, China and European Union, said the study.

‘Bangladesh appears to be ignoring potential health and economic impacts the proposed power plants would have in the country’s second most densely populated region,’ said Lauri Myllyvirta, the lead analyst of CREA, while presenting the study findings.

The only available environmental impact assessment was prepared based on inadequate data and it did not consider serious pollutions such as deposition of mercury emitted by the power plants, he said. 

The study revealed that the plants every year would emit 1,600 kilograms of mercury, a third of which would get deposited into the land and freshwater ecosystem.

Each hectare of land over 3,300 square kilometres, covering Cox’s Bazar, Bandarban and Chattogram, would see 125 milligrams of mercury deposition every year, exposing 7.4 million people to mercury contamination, said the study.

The rate of mercury deposition is dangerous because it can cause unsafe levels of mercury accumulation in fishes, said the study.

Over 121 mg of mercury would be deposited every year in each hectare of Cox’s Bazar sea beach and at the Chunati Wildlife Sanctuary the yearly mercury deposition would be 235 mg per hectare, according to the study.

The plants would produce around 6,000 tonnes of fly ash a year.

Fly ash contains a wide range of heavy metals like lead, chromium, arsenic, cadmium and nickel and also radioactive uranium and thorium, said the study.

About 2 crore people would be exposed to excessive sulphur dioxide and 1.60 crore to nitrogen oxide pollutions because of the plants, said the study.

The air of Cox’s Bazar is highly polluted and the plants would only worsen the situation, increasing people’s vulnerability to diseases such as COVID-19, said the study.

The study said that the assessments were conservative because it considered that safety precautions advertised for the plants would be properly followed.

‘The study gives us the reason to become extremely worried about the government’s development activities,’ said professor Md Khalequzzaman, who teaches geology at Lock Haven University, USA.

‘It does not make sense how Bangladesh being the major victim of climate change impacts could adopt such development plan,’ he said.

Chittagong University professor Monzoorul Kibria said that the plants would turn marine fish, including hilsha, uneatable, depriving the country of its largest fish source.

‘The pollution would also strip locals of their livelihoods such as salt , beetle leaf and fish farming, eventually leading to their displacement,’ said Monzoor.

Former caretaker government adviser Rasheda K Chowdhury, Doctors’ Platform for People’s Health convener Rashid-E Mahbub, Bangladesh Environment Movement general secretary Sharif Jamil and National Committee for Saving the Sunderbans member secretary Abdul Matin spoke at the webinar.

In a report released in May, the CREA said that the proposed seven coal-fired power plants in Payra may cause 34,000 deaths in their operating lifetime of 30 years.