Published: Friday 10 July 2015

A matter of fact

The statistics on heavy metal air pollution around Singareni Coalfield in Andhra Pradesh are misleading ('Breathe metal' Down To Earth , Vol 7, No 14; December 15). Does coal mining contribute to heavy metal pollution in the atmosphere? Is the use of coal by thermal power plants responsible for pollution? The source of the statistics is also not given, making it difficult to verify its reliability.


Amit Nair replies:
The statistics were based on a study conducted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute ( neeri ), Nagpur, at three locations in the coal mining area of Singareni, ap . This was then published in the Indian Journal of Environmental Protection (Vol 17, No 11).

Heavy metals from the coal mines at Korba, Neyveli and Talcher account for approximately 15 per cent of all the coal mined in India. Both coal mining and thermal power plants contribute to heavy metal pollution. But the contribution to heavy metal pollution from thermal power plants is much more than that from coal mines. Nevertheless, mines cannot be ignored in this regard as heavy metals are present in coal and coal deposits can affect the miners and local residents.

Coal contains a number of heavy metals that are hazardous to human health because inhalation of dust particles can lead to ailments such as bronchial asthma, dermatitis and pneumonia. Emissions of lead, cadmium, manganese and zinc are dangerous because these particles are respirable. Other activities, such as coal transportation, also contribute significantly to heavy metal pollution....

Treating wastewaters

This is with reference to the article 'Dirty States' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 4; July 15). Wastewater treatment facilities in India are very poor. Unfortunately, even after 52 years of independence, we do not have the basic infrastructure to deal with these problems. Accumulation of wastewater provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes which are responsible for the spread of diseases. We must learn from countries like Germany and Japan, where wastewater is treated and then supplied to farmers. During my visit to Tokyo, I found that the authorities have a method to identify households that release oil or chemicals into the underground sewage system. I hope such measures are adopted in India soon....

GMOs: a word of caution

This is with reference to the statistics page 'Genetically modified and spreading' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 5; July 31). The figures are interesting because they show that the most popular trait among genetically modified ( gm ) crops is their resistance to herbicides. Today, herbicide tolerant gm seeds are preferred because less toxic chemicals can be used alongside to check the growth of weeds. Moreover, the companies that sell the herbicides also sell gm seeds (like Monsanto's 'Round-up' herbicide and 'Round-up ready' gm seeds). But this situation is not promoting a reduced use of pesticides as claimed by the biotech companies. Besides, according to the journal New Scientist (London Times, July 8), many farmers in the us who have converted to gm production are using just as much pesticides as their counterparts who have stuck to conventional crops.

Today, it seems that farmers are increasingly worried about consumers in Europe and the us, who are wary of gm food, and also because the liability in case of damage from gm crops (to organic crops, environment or health) would rest on the farmer's shoulders. Will this slow down the spread of gm crops?...

The diesel menace

The article on diesel 'Engines of the devil' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 1; May 31) made interesting reading. It is sad that the automobile industry is flooding the market with diesel vehicles, even though it is aware of the dangerous nature of diesel emissions. Not only private vehicles but even government-owned vehicles are adding to the pollution. The number of autorickshaws is also increasing, and most of them are switching over to diesel. What will it take for the government to check the dieselisation of the automobile industry?...

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