Coal Plant-Emitted Uranium Linked To Birth Defects In Punjab India Cities


Guru Nanak Dev Thermal Plant in n Bathinda City, Punjab, India. Image credit:PSEB India.org

You might think of any given coal type as having relatively uniform properties: black, hard, carbon filled, and so on. However, dangerous mineral constituent concentration do vary widely; and, emissions of toxic constituents also vary greatly depending upon the design and operation of a combustion source. For example, some coal has trace levels of fluorides, while other deposits have highly hazardous levels of toxic fluorine compounds. The same is true for mercury, for arsenic, and for uranium and its radiological decay products. Relative to the radiological hazard, anecdotal evidence has emerged in India of children suffering from exposure to radionuclides associated with coal fired electricity production.From The Observer story titled India's generation of children crippled by uranium waste.

Health workers in the Punjabi cities of Bathinda and Faridkot knew something was terribly wrong when they saw a sharp increase in the number of birth defects, physical and mental abnormalities, and cancers. They suspected that children were being slowly poisoned.

But it was only when a visiting scientist arranged for tests to be carried out at a German laboratory that the true nature of their plight became clear. The results were unequivocal. The children had massive levels of uranium in their bodies, in one case more than 60 times the maximum safe limit...

The test results for children born and living in areas around the state's power stations show high levels of uranium in their bodies. Tests on ground water show that levels of uranium around the plants are up to 15 times the World Health Organisation's maximum safe limits. Tests also show that it extends across large parts of the state, which is home to 24 million people.

The findings have implications not only for the rest of India - Punjab produces two-thirds of the wheat in the country's central reserves and 40% of its rice - but for many other countries planning to build new power plants, including China, Russia, India, Germany and the US.



Guru Hargobind Thermal Plant, Lehra Mohabat, Bhatinda, Punjab, India. Image credit:Preet zinda, "Eighth Wonder"

We don't know, from the cited article, the types and effectiveness of pollution controls at coal-burning, state power plants in Punjab India; nor do we know exactly how fly ash and other residuals were dispersed from them, relative to the allegedly exposed children. Hence, I refer to cited evidence from article as "anecdotal". That said, the Observer article explains a great deal more about what has been alleged about uranium exposures there, and is worth reading in its entirety before you comment.

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