Odisha launches pilot project for online emissions monitoring of industries

Real time monitoring of industrial emissions will make it possible to introduce accountability and transparency, says pollution control board

By Sadia Sohail
Published: Wednesday 03 April 2013

In a bid to reduce air pollution from the burgeoning number of industries, the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) has initiated a scheme of installing online emission monitoring system (EMS) for measuring air pollutants in industries in real time.

In the first phase of the project, OSPCB has directed 29 large industries to install online stack and ambient air quality monitoring systems in their plants and transmit real time data to the its server through an advanced communication system such as GPRS (general packet radio service). The GPRS network should consist of a GPRS device enabled with GSM SIM card and transmit data through existing mobile phone network. The industries are also directed to display the real-time air quality data through an electronic display board in front of their gates for public information.

Talking about the new technology for maintaining air quality, A K Swar, senior environmental engineer with OSPCB said that SPCBs and industries in the country have been monitoring ambient air quality using high volume samplers, and doing stack monitoring using stack monitoring kits for the past few decades. These devices are semi-automatic in nature and do not have capability of generating/transmitting real time monitoring data automatically to SPCBs. The revised National Ambient Air Quality Standards notified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on November 11, 2009 introduced some critical parameters which require sophisticated online monitoring system for accuracy. Also, since the number of polluting type of industries in the state has increased it was felt appropriate to introduce online monitoring system for highly polluting large-scale industries, said Swar.

The new technology has introduced an innovative concept called Y Cable, which captures online data prior to landing at the plant’s local computer and transmits it through GPRS device to the server of the board directly without any lag, eliminating the scope for manipulation. “Such a technology is being used in India for the first time,” said Swar.

He added that the GPRS network can simultaneously send real-time data to the OSPCB server, server of the industry and electronic display board installed in-front of a factory gate. “Once we install the system at our office, the system will be linked with Central Pollution Control Board’s website. Such measures will introduce more accountability on the part of industries and bring about transparency in the work of the pollution control board and other stakeholders.”

How the system works
At present the server is receiving real time data from stack and ambient air quality monitoring systems of ten industries and the rest nineteen industries are in the process of connecting with the server of the board. The system is under trial and ti may be a few months before public can access the information.
EMS would keep a check on air pollutants such as PM10, PM2.5, SO2, NO2, CO in the ambient air and PM, SO2, NO2, HF from stack emissions. The 29 industries which have been directed to install EMS, include pollution intensive industries such as integrated steel, sponge iron plants, thermal power plants, cement plants, fertilizer plants, paper mills, aluminium smelter, aluminum refinery etc.

When asked how the disclosure of air quality parameters will help in curtailing air pollution, Swar replied that real time data transmission will keep the regulators and industries on their toes. In the event of high emission, the plant head will receive an SMS alert, so that they can immediately take measures to control pollution. Since the data will also be displayed to public outside the plant, there will always be a fear of public criticism which will also incite the plant engineers to maintain air quality. In case of continuous violation by a particular plant, OSPCB can issue a show cause notice and a closure direction to the errant industry to promptly curb air pollution, said Swar. 

Limiting factors
The industries, however, appear to be reluctant to adopt the system as it would mean continuous data transmission from their plant. The cost of installing the system—Rs 50 lakh—which is a huge initial investment is also a deterrent, admit officials. Swar, however, says that when it becomes a regulatory requirement, industries will have to make budgetary provisions to invest in EMS. To instill confidence among the industries and maintain transparency, OSPCB has a provision for industries to send an SMS to the server, explaining the cause of high emission at that particular time when they receive a message from OSPCB, notifying them about their high emissions. The reasoning given by the industries will be recorded by the server of the board for future reference. 

A committee of three senior officials of OSPCB has been constituted to supervise the progress of the programme. It will also help the head office and regional offices of OSPCB to get data and publish reports.

Similar technologies have been implemented in other states with no tangible proof of improvement in air pollution. Huge data is generated which is most often not used by regulators for monitoring and analysis. The technology is in a very nascent stage of implementation. Such technologies can be manipulated and proper sealing arrangements should be made to avoid human interference. There is no common guideline with specification for calibration and results from different types of imported equipments can also vary. Online data can also sometimes be unreliable owing to a process malfunction or sudden weather changes. State pollution boards and industries will have to play a proactive role and brainstorm to find solutions to such issues to manage the deteriorating air quality and ensure a safer environment for everyone.

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