Green tribunal panel finds ash from Okhla plant 'truly hazardous'

Tribunal directs waste management company to control emissions, record plastic content of waste

By Soma Basu
Published: Wednesday 01 May 2013

The local commissioner appointed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to oversee investigations into pollution caused by the municipal waste incinerator at Okhla in south Delhi has submitted a report which says that ash from the plant can be “truly hazardous”.

The report was prepared by a panel of experts assigned to ascertain whether the waste-to-energy plant was a threat to the environment and public health. “The collection of the bottom ash and fly ash inside the unit is not being regulated as per norms and it can be truly hazardous even for the persons working in the unit,” reads the report. Bottom ash and fly ash are being transported in open trucks and this is also injurious to the environment, the report says. 

Pressing problem

Members of Sukhdev Vihar Residents Welfare Association in 2009 filed a public interest petition in the Delhi High Court, requesting that the plant be shut down as it was releasing harmful dioxins and toxic ash into the air. The high court transferred the case to the green tribunal in January this year. The tribunal-appointed committee visited the residential area and collected samples of flyash from rooftop of residential buildings and cars. 

In March, the green tribunal bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar formed a five-member panel comprising four representatives from the government and one from Sukhdev Vihar Residents Welfare Association to ascertain whether the Okhla plant was a threat to the environment and public health. Advocate Rahul Chaudhary was appointed the local commissioner for the inspection panel after the residents complained that samples were collected without informing them and when the plant was not operating to its full capacity. 

The bench asked the panel to collect samples of ambient air as well as stack emissions in the presence of the local commissioner, to ensure that the plant is functioning at its optimum capacity. The bench also directed the panel to “note as to what was the power production capacity as per record of the plant for one week immediately following his visit to the plant". The panel, after the local commissioner was appointed, collected samples of bottom ash and flyash on April 6 while stack and ambient air quality samples were taken from April 10-20.

In an independent assessment of air samples taken from Sukhdev Vihar and Ishwar Nagar as a part of the citizens monitoring programme initiated by residents, Chennai based Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) found the fine particulate pollution (particulate matter 2.5 and below) levels were found to be at “life threatening levels and the presence of the toxic metal lead was at hazardous levels as per Indian Ambient Air Quality Standards,” read the press release issued jointly by GAIA, residents of Ishwar Nagar and Sukhdev Vihar.

Held to account

The bench said: “It remains undisputed that certain measures are required to be taken by the project proponent (Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Co Pvt Ltd) to ensure that their parameters of emission are within the permissible limits.” It directed the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to suggest measures that need to be to be taken by the management of Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Co Pvt Ltd. The bench futher directed the firm to state through an affidavit the steps to be taken to ensure that the functioning of the plant does not cause environmental pollution. The tribunal also directed the management to state on record the proportion of plastic content in the municipal solid waste being fed to the boilers, and the temperature in the incinerator.

“We are yet to study the report,” says Vimal Monga, President of Sukhdev Vihar Resident Welfare Association. “Certain observations were made in the court that we know about. But we have to see the full report first,” he adds. 

Particle pollution—especially fine particles—contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including premature death in people with heart or lung disease, non-fatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.

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