IT HAPPENS ONLY IN INDIA,
GREAT JOB MR. PARMAR
it is good to eat as many as vegetables and fruits (totally vegetarian), but my aurvedic doctor asked me to stop eating every...
The report card
Steel industry is highly polluting, non-compliant and resource-inefficient
Being environment-friendly should be easy for Indian iron and steel industry because it operates in a favourable market—low costs, high profits and galloping demand. But it is not. The industry is not just careless in managing pollution and resources, but, being big and powerful, it cares little about public opinion. It does not believe in disclosure; it does not welcome scrutiny. This is what the Green Rating Team has found. Of the 21 plants selected for rating, eight refused to give any information. Among them were four plants of mammoth public sector undertaking SAIL.
Stonewalling notwithstanding, every plant was scrutinised on two fronts: pollution and resource-efficiency. Result: even the best steel plants in the country are poor performers when compared to the global best practice.
Steel is among the 17 most polluting industrial sectors identified by the Central Pollution Control Board. But this does not mean the industry is extra-careful. On the contrary, almost all the plants the GRP team assessed were found non-compliant with pollution standards in one area or the other. Their contribution to air and water pollution was glaringly high, and their track record in solid waste management abysmally poor.
The steel industry releases large amounts of pollutants into the air during all its processes—be it while handling raw material, producing iron and steel or disposing of solid waste.
Blast furnace, by-product coke ovens and sinter plants cause heavy pollution, but the heaviest is from coal-based sponge iron plants. The main pollutants are particulate matter, oxides of sulphur and nitrogen and carbon monoxide. What’s worse, India is the largest producer of coal-based sponge iron. Companies prefer not to use pollution control equipment in these plants because running them requires a lot of energy. Many of them release untreated air through the roof instead of the chimney, where pollution is regulated.
The industry uses a lot of energy. Therefore, its CO2 emissions are high. On an average, primary steel plants emit three tonnes of CO2 per tonne of steel. The global best is 1.4 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of steel. The Indian average is pulled down by the growing emissions from coal-based sponge iron plants. If the trend continues, by 2030 Indian steel sector will emit about 800 million tonnes of CO2—about half the current greenhouse gas emissions of the country.
These emissions are hazardous like the thick layer of red dust that covers Kerala Samajam School in Jamshepdur. Its students complain of eye irritation and breathing problems. The red dust comes from the waste hot slag that Tata Steel dumps on the plant’s premises.
In a similar case, students of a government school near Godawari Power and Ispat Limited (GPIL) in Raipur are affected by heavy dust emissions. The plant dumps an amalgamation of sponge iron and char from a height to separate them. In the process dust gets airborne.
For people living close to steel plants black and red dust is common. But the regulatory authorities are nonchalant. Their monitoring is poor and enforcement poorer. No plant meets ambient air quality norms. Efforts to reduce emissions, especially fugitive emissions from raw material handling and storage, are minuscule.
Solid waste management
Slag disposal is a major environmental problem with steel making. For the past 15 years, Jindal Steel Plant Limited (JSPL) in Raigarh has been dumping slag from its steel melting shop (SMS) and waste from its sponge iron units at its dump site five km from the plant. During rainy season, pollutants from the site reach Parsada village. At the receiving end are farmers whose crops are suffering.
On an average, for every tonne of steel produced companies dump half a tonne of solid waste. In 2010-11, 35-40 million tonnes of solid waste was dumped on land for the 70 million tonnes of steel the country produced. This is a high cost to pay for steel.
Globally, the best practice is to dispose of less than 100 kg of solid waste for one tonne of steel produced. This waste is largely from the plant’s SMS, where the iron extracted from ore is converted into steel. Solid waste comprises metal oxides, silica and heavy metals. Companies across the world use this waste to build roads and railway tracks.
India, too, can use almost all the solid waste generated from its iron and steel plants. Blast furnace slag can be used to manufacture cement; metals can be recovered from SMS slag and reused; char from sponge iron plants can be burnt to produce energy; and the remaining slag can be used in construction works.
As the industry races to expand, it faces the big challenge of disposing of the bulk of waste it will generate. The Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL) in Visakhapatnam, a coal-based integrated steel plant with captive power plant, generates 0.24 tonnes of waste for one tonne of steel.
At present, it annually disposes of about 0.72 million tonnes of solid waste for producing three million tonnes of steel. By the next decade, the plant aims to produce 10 million tonnes. If it does not use its waste, then after expansion the plant will have 2.4 million tonnes of solid waste to manage.
RINL has 9,000 ha in which it can dump its waste. But not many plants have so much land. Tata Steel produces 0.21 tonnes of solid waste for every tonne of steel. The 10-million tonne plant produces 2 million tonnes of waste every year. The land at its disposal is limited. So it dumps waste outside the plant’s premises near river banks, causing pollution and problems for the community.
Coal-based sponge iron plants generate more waste than the steel they produce. JSPL, for instance, generates 1.2 tonnes of solid waste for each tonne of steel production. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has failed to crack the whip on companies. In fact, it has been easy on them by not setting proper conditions for solid waste disposal. The conditions simply say that plants must recycle waste and should not create air and water pollution. MoEF overlooks all non-compliances and blindly provides clearances accepting the industry’s assurance that it will reuse all waste “gainfully”.
The industry rarely reuses its waste water. RINL, for instance, releases its metallurgical effluent into the sea. In fact, the plant releases more effluents at night when monitoring is difficult. Fishers are harried by the dark brown effluent that is killing fish. When the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board failed to act, people approached the human rights commission. The problem has been persisting for the last two decades.
As per the global best practice, plants should not release wastewater at all. They should recycle and reuse their effluents. But in India, the average effluent discharged from integrated BF-BOF (blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace) alone is about 1.75 m3 per tonne of crude steel (tcs).
Plants that use the BF-BOF process and by-product recovery coke ovens pollute the most. Gas and coal-based sponge iron plants have relatively little wastewater discharge. Effluents from by-product recovery coke ovens are highly toxic because they contain cyanide, phenol and other organic and inorganic toxic chemicals. None of the by-product recovery coke ovens GRP assessed met norms for cyanide and phenol.
Companies have found a clever way of bypassing the issue of pollution. During coke quenching, a process in which water is used to cool burning coke, plants use the polluted effluents. This way they “use” their polluted water and gain brownie points from the monitoring agency. But they are actually converting water pollution to air pollution. There is no regulation to control toxic air pollutants from coke quenching.
| Offence at every step
Defying norms is the norm in the steel industry
Blast furnace and coal-based sponge iron plants are the most polluting routes in steel making.
In large integrated steel plants with blast furnace technology coke oven is the main source of air emissions. Its batteries leak benzene which puts workers’ health at risk.
While all plants claim compliance with leakage emission norms, only 25 per cent of the batteries were found complying with the standards during the Green Rating Project (GRP) survey. Among the non-compliant ones were SAIL plants of Bhilai, Bokaro and Durgapur, and Tata Steel. In iron ore preparation stage called sintering many plants were found not meeting stack emission norms.
In the subsequent stage of liquid iron making in blast furnace, a huge amount of fugitive emissions occur. Most of the plants have not bothered to install proper dust capture system they had committed years ago.
Similar problems were observed in water pollution. SAIL Bhilai claims it meets all coke oven effluent norms. But it was found that the pollution control board does not even monitor concerned parameters like cyanide, phenol and ammonical nitrogen.
Meanwhile, people of the villages nearby claim that a large quantity of tar sludge flows from the drains.
Plants also claim that due to poor quality of raw material the waste cannot be reused. The gas cleaning plant of SAIL Rourkela’s blast furnace was polluting the Brahmani river thus.
Fugitive emissions are not arrested despite the presence of suitable technologies, as was found in coal-based sponge iron plants.
The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests introduced new norms to control emissions, but no company were found adhering to them.
Gas-based sponge iron plants are also not that clean. Their raw material handling areas had high dust emissions leading to poor quality of ambient air.
The iron and steel industry is a voracious consumer of the natural resources: iron ore, coal, water and land. To produce 70 million tonnes of steel in 2010-11, the industry consumed about 60 million tonnes of coking coal equivalent, 111 million tonnes of iron and 700 million tonnes of water. It could have done with much less.
In many cases, the steel industry has got as much land as it wants but does not need. The industry justified its demand by saying it was for future expansion or for building townships.
Public sector companies occupy maximum land. SAIL Bokaro, for instance, occupies a vast area of 14,000 ha for its production of 4.5 million tonnes of steel. RINL follows with 9,000 ha for 3 million tonnes of steel and plans to double production in the next 20 years. The newly installed, state-owned Neelachal Steel in Kalinganagar, Odisha, controls 1,000 ha with an installed capacity of just one million tonnes of steel.
Still, the companies act miserly when they have to compensate or rehabilitate people. Between 1998 and 2002, Bhushan Power and Steel Limited (BPSL), Sambalpur, acquired large tracts of fertile land from the people of Thelkoloi, Dubanchapal and Khadiapali villages. The company gave them asbestos roofed 35 square metre houses and paid just Rs 3.5 lakh per ha.
The 21 companies that GRP rated have 60,000 ha to produce 51 million tonnes of steel. This means, an average of 1,100 ha for every million tonne of steel.
Considering the sector’s future expansion plan, it will need an additional 0.33 million ha—five times the size of Mumbai. Where will the additional land for expansion come from?
The best practice in land use is 200 ha per million tonne of the installed capacity. This includes land for production plant, power generation, waste disposal and staff colonies. If all plants were to use land as efficiently as the best practice, then 60,000 ha currently held by all large plants can produce up to 275 million tonnes of steel. This also means that the steel industry need not acquire land for many years to come.
Given the scale and pace at which the steel industry is growing, water use in the industry is set to become a big problem. But the industry is not bothered.
As part of its expansion plan, JSPL constructed a check dam on the Kelo river in 1998. Ever since, Gudgahan village in Raigarh faces acute water crisis. People of Gudgahan depend on the Kelo for their daily needs. The village has no other waterbody. The crisis, therefore, deepens during summer months. JSPL has taken no corrective step.
At present, Indian steel industry consumes on an average 3.5 m3 of water to produce one tonne of crude steel. This much without taking into account the water consumed in two major areas—power generation and townships.
SAIL Rourkela, for instance, consumes 4 m3/tcs of water in its plants. When water consumption in its power plant and township is included, its total water use jumps to 27 m3/tcs.
Tata Steel, which uses 5.7 m3/tcs, withdraws 57 million m3 of water every year just to meet the production process requirement of its 10 million-tonne plant. This much water can meet the daily requirement of 1.6 million people, more than the population of Jamshedpur, where Tata Steel is based.
Two of the most water-inefficient plants, SAIL Bokaro and SAIL Bhilai, use 80-85 million m3 per year each to produce 4.5 million tonnes of steel. Both have massive expansion plans.
The BF-BOF plant consumes maximum water: an average of 4 m3/tcs. The global best practice is 1 m3/tcs.
Yet, there is no push to improve. The only benchmark for water use is an archaic and ambiguous voluntary standard that MoEF had set in 2003 under corporate responsibility for environment protection programme (CREP). Plants deliberately under-report water use to show compliance with the MoEF standard.
Over the years, the industry has reduced its energy consumption. But there is a definite downslide in the recent years because the industry is moving towards producing steel from the energy-inefficient, coal-based sponge iron technology.
The Indian average in energy consumption is 7 giga calories (GCal)/tcs. The global best practice is 4.5 GCal/tcs. The most energy-efficient plant in India, Ispat Industries, Dolvi, uses 5.4 GCal/tcs. The worst is Usha Martin, a coal-based sponge iron plant, which uses 10 GCal/tcs. Coal-based sponge iron process is the most energy intensive using 8.5-9 GCal/tcs. This process gains from being inefficient.
It consumes more energy than required for making sponge iron, and the waste heat released is used for power generation. These plants dubiously attain clean development mechanism (CDM) credits by claiming that such projects save energy.
Occupational Health, Safety
Most of the companies that GRP rated had occupational health and safety management system certifications (OHSAS 18001). But their performance, to say the least, was poor. They had high fatalities. At least 63 people died between 2007 and 2010 in the OHSAS 18001-certified plants. Most of them were contract workers. JSPL, Raigarh, had 13 fatalities in these three years.
The industry does not undertake critical health tests for its workers, like those for cancer-causing chemical exposure and heat stress. Health records are poorly documented and never disclosed.
Almost half of the workforce is on contract. These workers are usually employed in dangerous areas of the plant with minimal health and safety protection. SAIL, for example, employs contract workers in the blast furnace of its Durgapur plant to remove blazing hot material that obstruct the blast furnace’s operations. This is dangerous considering the temperature of the blast furnace can be as high as 1,600°C. Many accidents have occurred with contract workers while performing such activities, says one such worker. But the industry remains oblivious to such safety concerns.