Bathinda, a district in Punjab is home for two thermal power plants. Recently, the district groundwater has been contaminated with high concentration of uranium. Even after reverse osmosis process, to make the water clean, the water is not potable. Nearly 107 people are found to be affected by cancer and four to five cancer deaths every year.
Recent water samples tested by the PPCB were found to be contaminated with DDT and Benzene Hexachloride in addition to other toxic substances.
Even when the ‘liberal’ WHO limit for permissible uranium concentration of 15 mg/litre is adopted, more than 77 per cent of samples have failed and groundwater of 17 villages tested remains unfit for human consumption.
The most likely reason for the contamination could be the wastes produced by the Thermal Plants which burns 24,000 tons of coal daily to produce electricity, and produce flue gases, flyash and pond ash which is stored in Ash Ponds in the form of slurry. The Ash Ponds have not been provided with “Lining Material” so as to prevent seeping water to mix with the groundwater and cause contamination.
An examination of samples from close to the Ash Pond reveal that the concentration of uranium is 74.9 mg/litre with the average value of 56.9 mg/litre, at the farthest sample tested, the concentration measured is of 9.3 mg/litre, the lowest value tested.
An earlier radio-elemental study of the Kolaghat Thermal Plant in West Bengal shows how the presence of uranium in coal has affected the environment around the thermal plant, including the groundwater. The analysis of other thermal plants of West Bengal, such as Durgapur and Bandel are also available and show similar findings.
With investment in thermal and nuclear power increasing in the country, this issue has to be taken seriously because the same problem may occur in other parts of the country.