Impacts of Power Plants


Impact on Air, Water, Soil and People:
  • Causes respiratory ailments
  • Affects historic structures
  • Causes climate change
  • Affects water quality and thus reduces quantity available for human consumption
  • Affects fishing as hot water let into sea kills or causes migration of marine species
  • Limits crop cultivation due to increase in alkalinity of soil
  • Limits crop cultivation as land available for agriculture reduced
  • Affects plant growth
  • Affects livelihood for farmers and fishermen
  • Increases risk of accidents due to hazardous working conditions

Water used for washing coal, if directly let into water bodies, will contaminate them. Fly ash from these plants will pollute the soil when it sets down on land. Air emission from these plants that contain pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and other metals like mercury, affects health and wellbeing.4

There are four types of environment impacts based on the nature and features of the impacts:

•  Direct impact- e.g. Impact of untreated wastewater from the power plant discharged into a river or stream impacting marine life.

•  Indirect impact - e.g. SO2 from power plant deposited as SO4 on the soil affects farming.

• Cumulative impact - e.g. Combined impact of all emissions of existing and upcoming projects in a region

• Induced impact - e.g. Impact of change in land use patterns and population in the area because of the plant on the existing natural resources like water, air.

Environmental Impacts

1. Air Pollution

There are several pollutants emitted into the air from a coal power plant. These include Sulphur Dioxide (SO ), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) and Ozone (O). Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM), Lead and Non-Methane Hydrocarbons are also released.

Any combustion process is a source for production of NOx. They are formed during combustion of the nitrogen present in the fuel and the oxygen present in the air. The formation of NOx is greater with increase in the combustion temperature.

Further formations of major greenhouse gases Carbon Dioxide (CO ) - formed by CO mixing with atmospheric oxygen - and Nitrous Oxide (NO) - formed by NOx combing with atmospheric oxygen – also take place.

Similarly, SOx (Oxides of Sulphur) are the combination of sulphur in the fuel and the oxygen from the air. Sulphur Dioxide (SO ) is a common pollutant from coal power plants. Sometimes, due to excess oxygen, SO  is also formed, which mixes with the water in the atmosphere, causing acid rain. SPM from coal power plants are mainly soot, smoke and fine dust particles and these cause asthma and respiratory illness.  

2. Water Pollution

In a coal power plant, water is used for washing coal, circulating in the boiler furnace to produce steam and cooling of equipment. The dust from coal-cleaned water contaminates groundwater. The hot water, if let out into water bodies without cooling, causes a rise in temperature and affects aquatic flora and fauna.

3. Land Degradation

Untreated air and water pollutants from coal power plants affect the water and the flora and fauna of adjoining areas making them unfit for living or livelihood activities.

​4. Noise Pollution

Regular exposure to such high noise levels emanating from power plants from the usage of equipment like boilers, turbines and crushers, affects people working in the plants

Health Impacts

Chemical Pollutant

Health Impact

Sulphur Dioxide

  • Affects respiratory system and lung functions
  • Causes asthma and chronic bronchitis
  • Causes eye irritation
  • Causes cardiac disease

Nitrous Oxides

  • Causes asthma
  • Causes Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • Stunts lung growth
  • Causes cardiac disease

Particulate Matter(PM):
                              Coarse Particulates(PM10),
                               Fine Particulates(PM2.5)

  • Causes asthma
  • Causes Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • Stunts lung growth
  • Causes lung cancer
  • Causes cardiac disease
  • Causes congestive heart failure


  • Causes respiratory problems
  • Causes skin and eye burns

Hydrogen Chloride and Fluoride

  • Causes irritation to skin, eyes, nose, throat, breathing passages

Dioxins and Furan

  • Probable cause of stomach cancer
  • Affects reproductive, endocrine and immune systems

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

  • Adversely affects the liver, kidney and testes
  • May damage sperm cells and impair reproduction
  • May attach to small particulate matter and be deposited in the lungs


  • Damages brain, nervous system, kidneys, liver
  • Causes neurological and birth defects


  • Damages nervous system of children
  • Adversely affects learning, memory and behaviour of children
  • Damages kidneys
  • Causes cardiovascular disease
  • Causes anaemia

Antimony, Arsenic, Beryllium, Cadmium, Nickel, Selenium, Manganese

  • Probable effects of carcinogens (lungs, bladder, kidney, skin cancers)
  • Adversely affects nervous, cardiovascular, skin, respiratory and immune systems


  • Probable carcinogens (lung and bone cancers)
  • Causes anaemia
  • Causes brain swelling


  • Probable carcinogens (lungs and lymphatic system)
  • Causes kidney disease