Cadmium level are 169 times higher than the safety level defined by Canada in the soil around coal mines, thermal power plants and coal ash ponds in Chhattisgarh, according to a study released on Monday.

The report by the Community Environmental Monitoring and Dalit Adivasi Mazdoor Sangathan is based on the study of soil, water, air and sediment samples from five locations in Tamnar, a highly industrialised block of Chhattisgarh’s Raigarh district. All the samples were collected in May 2017 and tested in two laboratories in Oregon in the United States.

Although the study does not name any polluting industries, there is an OP Jindal thermal power plant in the block as well as mines that earlier belonged to the Jindal Group that are now in the custody of South Eastern Coalfields Limited.

Residents of these villages “have been complaining of severe pollution and pollution-related health problems from the coal mines, thermal power plants and coal ash ponds in the region”, according to the report. This research is yet another confirmation that coal mines are major pollutants and possibly hazardous to all life forms around them.

Apart from asking for continuous and long-term monitoring of emissions in Chhattisgarh, the author of the study, Shweta Narayan, also called for a moratorium on expanding any coal mines, thermal power plants and other polluting industries till the area can be examined further.

“All samples were taken in public spaces and private property,” Narayan told Scroll.in. “It is very clear that contamination has breached from mines and power plants and are in people’s houses.”

Location of samples collected in Tamnar, Chhattisgarh. Image credit: Shweta Narayan
Location of samples collected in Tamnar, Chhattisgarh. Image credit: Shweta Narayan

High pollution levels

Cadmium is a known carcinogen that accumulates in the kidney, causes diarrhoea, reproductive failure, infertility or psychological disorders, and also damages the central nervous system and immune system.

It is only one of the twelve heavy toxic metals found in the soil, water and sediments in the study area in Chhattisgarh. The other metals found in drinking water, soil and sediments included aluminium, arsenic, antimony, boron, chromium, lead, manganese, nickel, selenium, zinc and vanadium. These metals are known to cause a host of physical ailments.

Even if they did not pose a direct risk to human life in drinking water sources, they are still likely to transfer upwards in the food chain through other means, causing harm to other life forms.

While India does not have standards for chemicals in soil and sediments, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change had in 2015 referred to Canadian standards as “guideline values”, the study explains. Levels of these toxic heavy metals in the soil in these locations would all require remedial intervention if India did, in fact, frame guidelines.