Air Pollution in Sri Lanka

Introduction: Air pollution is an under-appreciated concern and that the impacts of air pollution is poorly understood. Sri Lanka faces rapid rise in pollution from internal sources and from trans-boundary sources in the continent to the North. Air quality problems are increasing day by day due to the rapid rise in emissions of particulate matter and noxious gases from vehicular traffic, industrial emissions particularly from thermal power generation plants, rapid urbanization and trans-boundary transport of atmospheric contaminants from the Asia continent.

Particulate matter is the primary pollution of concern in Sri Lanka because it has consistently exceeded WHO guidelines. SO2 has shown increasing trends although they are still close to USEPA guidelines from 1997 to 2003. Annual NO2 levels, on the other hand, have consistently complied with WHO annual guidelines as well as annual USEPA limits.

Emissions from Transport:

Trends in energy consumption show increases in petroleum consumption compared with other renewable sources such as biofuels and hydropower. The country has also seen rapid motorization (e.g., doubling of motor vehicle fleet in one decade from 1991 to 2000). Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Environment estimated in 2011 that emissions from motor vehicles accounts for 55-60% of  air pollution, while 20-25% is due to industries and 20%  is from domestic sources. The number of vehicles too is rising and although recently emission testing has been mandated, the rise in emissions from 3-wheel auto-rickshaws has aggravated air quality, particularly in urban settings.

Emissions from Power Generation: The share of thermal power generation is increasing due to rising demand and reductions in generation by hydro-electricity due to the declining stream flow. Since 2011, there has been a rise in installation of electricity generation plants including a 900 MW coal power plant at Puttalam.


Impacts of Air Pollution: The impacts of the increasing air quality issues on the environment and climate are poorly understood. Preliminary studies on the impact of noxious gases and particulates on the atmospheric chemistry at ground level points to deleterious impacts on land and water quality. There are no studies on the impact of particulates on cloud formation and modulation of rainfall.  The transboundary emissionsfrom the Asia continent to Sri Lanka is also becoming a significant source of pollution at higher elevations.    

Monitoring and Mitigating Air Pollution: Managing the environmental impacts of transport systems and electric power generation are two defining challenges of contemporary times across the world as society tries to manage local atmospheric pollution and the global commons. There is a particular need for attention to air quality in tropical countries such as Sri Lanka as there is limited capacity to monitor air quality and implement mitigation steps. In Sri Lanka, industrialization and urbanization activities are centered on the coast of the Western Province comprising Gampaha, Colombo, and Kalutara districts. There is long-range transport of these pollutants into the mountains (which reaches an altitude of 2 km) as carried by the summer monsoon wind streams from April to October.

The focus on improved implementation and enforcement of laws and action plans should be a priority since implementation of previous action plans have been slow.

Air pollution from Coal Power Plants: A detailed accounts of the existing Coal power plant and the proposed plant are at

Norachcholai power plant

Sri Lanka’s first coal fired thermal power plant and the largest power station is implemented as a venture of Ceylon Electricity Board with the aid of EXIM Bank of the Republic of China. Located 100m inland from the shoreline, the construction was undertaken by the CMEC (China Machinery Engineering Corporation) and the total estimated cost of the project was USD 1.35 billion. The contract for the project was singed in 2006 and the first phase of the power plant, 300 MW was commissioned in 2011. The second phase completed adding another 300 MW in 2014 while the third phase added another 300 MW, making the total power generated through the Norochcholai power plant 900 MW. The first phase also included the construction of a 115km transmission line that connected the power plant to the national grid through the Veyangoda substation. A jetty that extended 4.2km into the ocean was also constructed. Nearby villages include Narakkalli and Penaiyadi on the Kalpitiya peninsula.

Sampur power plant

A second coal power plant was proposed as a joint venture of Ceylon Electricity Board and National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) of India. The Joint Venture Company has been incorporated as Trincomalee Power Company Limited on 6th September 2011. Trincomalee Power Company Limited was expected to be responsible for implementation and operation of the 2 X 250MW coal power plant in Sampur. The total estimated cost of the project was projected to be USD 512 Million.

The power generated will be transmitted to the national grid through high voltage transmission lines from Sampur through Habarana to the Veyangoda Grid Substations. A Power Purchase Agreement, Implementation Agreement, BOI Agreement, Land Lease Agreement and Coal Supply Agreement were signed on 07 October 2013 by the Government of Sri Lanka, Ceylon Electricity Board and JV Company. The Project was expected to be commissioned before end of 2017. However, due to flaws in its EIA in preventing environmental pollution, and objections from the public, the government decided to cease plans. This project though may be revived by a future government.