Even after four days around 50 per cent of the toxic sludge remains to be lifted
Gujarat's state pollution control board has issued a show cause notice to the company tasked with the job of managing the toxic waste generated by Vapi, an industrial town in south Gujarat which topped the list of critically polluted areas earlier this year. The Vapi Waste Effluent Management Company Limited (VWEMCL) is accused of improper handling of toxic waste. The notice was issued on July 18, a day after a portion of a protection wall of Treatment Storage Disposal Facility (TSDF) managed by the company collapsed, leading to heavy spillage of toxic sludge from the facility into nearby agricultural fields. Even after four days, around half of the toxic sludge remains to be cleaned.
According to an official with the state pollution control board, TSDF is used to store chemically treated solid waste, but the industries in Vapi were illegally dumping their liquid toxic waste in the facility. “The facility was already filled to its brim. Due to heavy rains the dumped liquid waste is believed to have exerted pressure on one of the TSDF walls, a portion of which collapsed,” he adds. According to the state government, around 25,000 tonnes of sludge spilled out and spread over a 1.6 hectare area. Some of the sludge has even flowed into a small rivulet—Bill Khadi. “The main worry is that this rivulet meets Kolak river in Vapi which is a source of water for people and livestock,” says the official. VWEMCL is responsible for management of waste in the Vapi industrial area.
The state government immediately sent ten JCB machines and sludge pumping equipment. “We are working on a war-footing but due to rains it is becoming difficult to lift the sludge. We have transferred around 50 per cent of the sludge in the new TSDF which was recently built in Vapi near the old TSDF,” says Bharat Jain, chief executive officer at VWEMCL. Jain claimed all the sludge will be transferred to the new TSDF by Sunday. However, according to G V Patel, regional officer of GPCB, this new facility is a temporary arrangement as the building is not fully ready. “A permanent solution has not been thought yet,” he adds.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, have called for strict action against VWEMCL and other waste management companies for not handling waste properly. “This is not the first incident. A few years ago, a waste disposal facility in Baroda developed cracks because of which toxic chemicals seeped into groundwater, leading to contamination in surrounding villages,” says Rohit Prajapati, a Vadodara-based environmentalist. “There are proper guidelines which are to be followed for building and maintenance of waste storage and disposal facilities but industries rarely follow them. It is all because of lax monitoring of these sites by state pollution boards,” he adds.
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