None of the 11 public sector thermal power plants operating in the State were compliant with emission norms prescribed by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) in 2021, a study by the Health Energy Initiative (HEI) India has found.
As per TNPCB’s mandate, thermal plants in the State are supposed to install Online Continuous Emission Monitoring Systems (OCEMS). However, the public sector thermal plants have failed to monitor emissions for varied periods ranging from 2% to 100% of the time in the year 2021, the study stated. The major pollutants from coal-fired power plants are the oxides of nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulphur oxide (SO2), and particulate matter.
Data compiled by the HEI through Right to Information (RTI) applications to the TNPCB showed the Neyveli New Thermal Power Project, Cuddalore, was the top violator with 86% non-compliance. The Mettur Thermal Power Station II, Salem, had no data for SO2 and NOx for the entire year.
The Tuticorin Thermal Power Station, Thoothukudi, had no data for particulate matter emissions in 2021 and the North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTPS), Tiruvallur, had no data for 54% of the time that year for the same. “If there is no monitoring, the extent of exceedances is unpredictable, leaving a loophole to being held accountable for exceedances,” the report said.
As per the study, SO2 emissions from NTPC, Tiruvallur, had exceedances for 90% of the time in 2021. While short-term exposure to SO2 causes wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness, long-term exposure to a high level of SO2 increases respiratory symptoms and reduces lung function ability. The report also said respiratory illnesses are high among under five years of children living around the Ennore thermal power plant cluster.
The HEI recommended that the TNPCB should put in place an effective monitoring system that accounts for no data or faulty data and reverse exceedances immediately.
The Union Ministry for Environment had given several deadline extensions to the power plants for installing emission monitors, with the latest notification extending the timeline to meet sulphur dioxide norms to December 31, 2027.
TNPCB Member Secretary R. Kannan said the board is constantly exerting pressure on the thermal power plants to give continuous data. “Once they install desulphurisation units and low nox burners, we will be able to meet the standards,” he said.