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Toxic waste from Burma's largest coal project could displace 12,000

Katharine Helmore

20th January, 2011

Despite wreaking havoc on the health of local villagers and the environment, Burma's military regime is doing nothing to reduce the impact of the Tigyit power plant and mine

Toxic waste and ash from Burma's largest coal-fired power plant and the nearby lignite coal mine are devastating the health of local communities and could displace up to 12,000 people, say Burmese researchers.

According to a report released by the Py-Oh Youth Group, the Tigyit Power Plant is producing up to 150 tonnes of toxic fly ash daily and is enveloping nearby villages in the southern Shan State in a toxic cloud, causing widespread health problems.

Fly ash, the by-product of burning coal, contains heavy metals including mercury, arsenic and lead. When breathed in over a long period of time it can cause cancer and respiratory diseases. The Pa-Oh Youth Group says 50 per cent of people in the 25 villages near the plant are suffering from skin rashes.

‘Our skies and waters are turning black,’ said Pa-Oh General Secretary, Khun Chankhe. ‘What future is there for our children who are growing up in a toxic wasteland?’

The Tygit plant is supplying electricity to the Pinpet iron factory where, as the Ecologist highlighted last year, toxic waste forced thousands of people to flee the area.

Village opposition stifled


Every year 640,000 tons of ligite coal from a nearby open mine are used in the plant. The Tigyit coalmine exacerbates the problem by dumping highly toxic coal deposits near to waterways and farmland.

Just 13 miles from the coalmine is Burma’s second largest freshwater habitat, the Inle Lake. Once a cherished tourist attraction and valuable source of clean water, it is now badly contaminated due to unregulated and unmonitored coal mining operations. The Balu Creek tributary, the lake's biggest water source, is being polluted by the power plant. Despite being a heritage site recognised by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the only remaining habitat for nine species of fish, the entire ecosystem now hangs in the balance.

‘The government is using energy resources for its own profit and leaving us to deal with the pollution and destruction to our communities…this project should be stopped and its impacts properly assessed, especially to out treasured Inle Lake,’ said Chankhe. ‘We believe that if the Burmese authority wants to maintain the future of Inle Lake they must stop running the Tigyit coalmine and power plant.’

Campaigners say the Burmese military regime stifles the voices of villagers affected, many of whom are illiterate and depend on the healthy ecology of the farmland that is now being ruined. One employee at the Tygit power plant said the regime provided a health worker each day, but only as a face-saving excercise; in reality very little healthcare is available. ‘The government hasn’t assessed the health impacts or provided any health care to local communities around coalmines,’ said Chankhe.


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