The agriculture and health of nearly 12,000 people living within a five-mile radius of Burma’s largest coal mine and coal-fired power plant are threatened with air and water pollution, according to a report titled “Poison Clouds” that was complied by the Pa-Oh Youth Organization (PYO) and the Kyoju Action Network (KAN).
According to the report, the power plant, which is located near Tigyit in Pinglaung Township in southern Shan State, releases 100 to150 tons of toxic ash containing mercury, lead and arsenic into the atmosphere every day.

A farmer tends his crops in Tigyit while the coal-fired power plant looks in the background (PHOTO: PYO)
In recent years, ash has been known to cover roads and some 50 percent of the local population suffers from skin infections, the report says.

“Our skies and waters are turning black,” said Khun Chankhe of the PYO. “What future is there for our children who are growing up in a toxic wasteland?”

The residue from the coal mine is piling up so high that the dumps have become like hills and are blocking the flow of water, as well as creating pollution and stagnant lakes. Toxic fly ash that is dumped on coal mine waste piles or spread on local roads is also running off into local water sources, some of which eventually flows into Inle Lake, the report states.

The Burmese military regime’s Vice-Snr-Gen Maung Aye chose the site for the power plant in 2001, and instructed local military officials to confiscate more than 100 acres of local farm lands, said the 54-page report.

However, some 500 acres of land were seized. Three hundred and twenty-one families from Lai Khar and Taung Pola villages each received a maximum of 170,000 kyats (US $170) compensation for forced relocation.

However, the Myanmar Mines Law of 1994, Chapter 5, Section 4, states that “the holder of a permit for mineral production within an area under the Ministry’s administrative control or which does not lie within the Mineral Reserve Area or Gemstone Tract, shall carry out such production only after coordinating and receiving agreement from the individual or organization having the right of cultivation, right of possession, right of use and occupancy, beneficial enjoyment, right of succession or transfer of the said land.”

The plant uses 640,000 tons of coal per year to produce 600 Gigawatts of power with a capacity of 120 Megawatts.

The China National Heavy Machinery Corporation, along with Eden Group of Myanmar and Shan Yoma Nagar, implemented the project in 2002 under the supervision of the Energy Ministry with an investment of $42.93 million.

Chit Khaine, the founder of Eden Group, is on the EU sanctions list under the category, “Persons Who Benefit from Government Economic Policies and Other Persons Associated with the Regime.”

“The project is for the sake of China, not for the local communities. The local people don’t receive sufficient electricity from the plant,” said Khun Chankhe.

Electricity produced from the power plant is sent to the nearby Nagar cement plant. A proposal is being considered to supply electricity to another mining project, the Pangpet iron factory near Hopone and the Taunggyi highway, which is run by Russian and Italian companies, the report said.

The Tigyit coal mine also produces nearly 2,000 tons of lignite and sub-bituminous coal every day. Lignite, a soft brown coal, produces the most carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy than any other type of coal.

The plants and the mine are located within the watershed that is 13 miles from Burma’s famous Inle Lake in Shan State. River waters polluted by the mine and waste from the power plant are flowing into the lake via the Balu Creek, the report says.

Khun Chanke said that this is one of the main reasons why Inle Lake is drying up.

Residue piles from the mine are now towering above the homes of 3,000 people, blocking streams and contaminating fields. The coal is extracted through an underground tunnel system which runs beneath tea farms—another major concern for villagers who live in constant fear of landslides and land collapses, said the report.

“We issue the report today with concern for Inle Lake,” said Khun Chanke on Thursday. “We also wish to call on the elected candidates from Inle and Pinglaung region to discuss this issue in Parliament.”

The Inn National Development Party has previously said that the party will focus on the environmental issues of Inle Lake.

There are over 16 large-scale coal deposits in Burma. The Italian-Thai Development Plc, a large Thai construction firm, signed a multi-billion dollar deal with Burma in November for the development of a deep sea port in Dawei (Tavoy). The project includes plans for Southeast Asia’s largest coal-fired power plant that will build in Dawei where 18 villages have been ordered to move to make way for the project, said the PYO/ KAN report.

PYO was set up in 1998 and says it is “striving for peace and justice in Burma through empowering youth.” It published a report, “Robbing the Future,” in June 2009 after two years of research at the site of Burma’s largest iron mine and the Pangpet No. 5 Steel Mill in Shan State.

KAN was set up in 2010 and says its aim is “strengthening communities’ capacity to protect their natural resources.”