Environmental Pollution Can it be Controlled?
What is common between Accra, the capital Ghana in West Africa, and Gurugram, the industrial and financial hub on the outskirts of New Delhi, the capital of India?
Depending on which survey you believe, these two cities are ranked the most polluted in the world. A recent study by IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace has identified the cities where air pollution is highest. The list is dominated by India, with seven of the worst 10 cities, and 22 of the worst 30. However, Numbeo, the world’s largest database of user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide, gives that dubious distinction to Accra, but India still has 7 cities among the 20 worst of this list. While these rankings refer to the quality of air, when it comes to environmental pollution, the country is staring at a huge problem, and has a long way to go to reach environmental quality comparable to developed economies.
Yet environmental pollution, much of it caused by rapid industrialisation, is not just India’s problem but a very serious global concern today. The good news is technology that ushered in industrialisation also has solutions for the problems causing environmental degradation, actively aided by automated monitoring mechanism.
“Environmental pollution is one of the most severe global problems. It is not only affecting human lives but responsible for the degradation of the entire ecosystem. There are different environmental pollution problems we are observing, i.e., air pollution, noise pollution, water pollution, garbage pollution, etc. Increasing population, extensive resource use, infrastructure scarcity, and improper use of infrastructure are the primary reasons for rising environmental pollution. Most Indian cities are facing severe environmental pollution problems,” says Ajay Singh Nagpure, Head – Air Pollution, WRI India.
The menace is not just threatening the quality of human life. As Vishnu Vyshak, Certified Environmentalist, Environment Officer in Pharmaceutical MNC says, “Moreover, environment pollution breaks the chain of Bio-Geo-Chemical cycles which is responsible for the smooth functioning of the biosphere. Other alarming effects of environmental pollution are climate change, global warming, sea-level changes, melting of polar ice sheets and glaciers, disturbance in bio-diversity of habitats, etc.”
According to Bill Shukla, Executive Vice President (Air Pollution Control and Water and Waste Solutions), Thermax Limited, long-term exposure to these pollutants can accelerate ageing of lungs, adversely affect lung function and develop life threatening diseases such as asthma and possibly cancer. Further, the introduction of excessive amount of CO2 into the earth’s atmosphere is the leading cause of global warming and thus termed as ‘the leading pollutant’. “The level of CO2 prior to industrial times, i.e., before 19th century was less than 300 ppm (parts per million) which is currently more than 410 ppm. It is a whopping increase that has caused the average global temperature to rise to more than 0.8?C in the last century which is adversely affecting life on earth,” says Shukla.
Is improper and inadequate disposal of civic waste and garbage more serious than industrial pollution? “Improper and inadequate disposal of civic waste and garbage and industrial pollution are two serious issues to be tackled simultaneously. It is practically difficult to distinguish which one is more serious – it’s purely location specific and depends on the ambient environment and synergistic contribution and active role of point and non-point sources of pollution,” says Dr Amit Mishra, Environment Consultant & Expert at Rourkela Smart City Limited (RSCL) and Municipal Corporation Rourkela. According to him, industrial pollution is the release of wastes and pollutants generated by industrial activities into natural environments including air, water, and land. Additionally, industrial pollution is linked to the degradation of the natural environment. “Industrial pollution impacts the environment in multiple ways and has given consequences on human lives and health,” adds Dr Mishra.
“Industrial pollution is more serious than the civic waste and garbage because the composition of industrial waste has different hazardous substances, and exposure to these substances is more harmful. Although industrial waste is more toxic than civic waste, we cannot ignore civic waste and garbage problem,” says Ajay Singh. According to him, in India, this is one of the critical environmental issues, which most of the urban areas are currently facing. Continuous exposure to accumulated civic waste and garbage is responsible for various diseases. Poor civic waste and garbage collection efficiency also lead to open illegal waste burning which is contributing to the urban air pollution.
For Bill Shukla, pollution itself is a matter of serious concern irrespective of its source. “The major source of industrial pollution is manufacturing sector or sectors converting products to other products at different stages of product life cycle. The top contributors to this list are ferrous industry manufacturing iron and steel from ore, cement industry, dyes and chemical industry, etc. While for civic waste, the major reason is short life cycle of products,” he says. Shukla cites a report that suggests 2.12 billion tonnes/year of waste is generated globally, out of which 99% of commodities are trashed within 6 months and about one-third of clothes end up in landfill. Thus the quantum of damage caused by both sources, viz., civic waste and industrial pollution is perilous.
“Industrial waste is treated in the process itself and then disposed; if not treated and disposed, it is a signal of danger for the ecosystem. On the other hand improper, inadequate and unsegregated disposal of municipal solid waste leads to improper management of solid waste into the landfill thus leading to further land pollution,” says Vishnu Vyshak. According to him, proper segregation of civic waste from the source is necessary and separation of solid, liquid (wet), plastic waste has to be done from the source itself and waste must be recycled where seen necessary. “The mantra of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rethink must be applied to the concept to treat pollution,” asserts Vishnu.
But the real question is pollution prevention (or P2) technologies are available but not widely used in the absence of stringent regulation. What can be done? “Pollution prevention technologies are available but not widely used in absence of stringent regulations. Let us compare India with USA and EU. Effective regulations for the protection of environment were framed as Water Act in 1974, Water Cess Act in 1977 and Environment Protection Act 1986, but during 1970s and 1980s implementation part wasn’t that stringent,” says Dr Mishra. According to Vishnu, stringent rules and regulations are required in a society for the smooth functioning and for compliance justification but when people do not have the basic knowledge of pollution or how technology works for pollution prevention, the gap has to be filled by giving adequate training on the environment pollution, technology upgradation, etc.
Technocrat Bill Shukla feels the cost of latest technology to curb pollution will undoubtedly spiral out the benefits of realised economic logic due to high capital and operational expenditures (CAPEX and OPEX) hindering the use of technology to curb pollution. “At this juncture the government can play a vital role in the adoption and accessibility of latest pollution prevention technology. It can incentivise the cost of technology development and increase the visibility of firms that uses up-to-date and effective pollution abatement technologies,” he says. According to him, such a scenario will create an internal competition among producers/manufacturers/suppliers to present themselves as a socially responsible organisation to boost their brand equity. The governments can thereafter regulate industrial norms and reduce their share of carbon footprints.
So what could be the possible roadmap for a more effective control mechanism?
“For more effective control mechanism, we need to work in multiple ways. Effective policies, implementation, and monitoring efficiencies, and awareness are the essential components which require immediate attention,” says Ajay Singh.
“More effective roadmap for control and regulating mechanism should begin with fixing the roles and responsibilities of respective agencies. Coordination of citizen involvement, engagement, consultation, awareness and action in a time-bound manner will fetch the expected results and outcome,” states Dr Mishra.
“At the forefront it shall be digitisation. All the emission monitoring devices should be digital and tamper proof. Further they should be linked with operating systems prohibiting bypass and record data as and when the system was operated without monitoring device (either shutdown or kept offline). This top down approach will not only simplify control mechanism but ensure strict compliance,” asserts Bill Shukla.
“Cleaner production must be implemented in every industry so as to reduce the waste form the source itself. For reduction in vehicular pollution and to control of air pollution BS-6 (Bharat Stage) must be started at the earliest, every industry must have a good maintained ETP (Effluent Treatment Plant) for water pollution control, many air pollution control devices such as effective venturi scrubbers, electrostatic precipitators, cyclone scrubbers must be implemented in industry for air pollution control,” concludes Vishnu.
‘Most Indian cities are facing severe environmental pollution problems’
Ajay Singh Nagpure, Head – Air Pollution, WRI India.
‘Industrial pollution impacts the environment in multiple ways’
Dr Amit Mishra, Environment Consultant & Expert at Rourkela Smart City Limited (RSCL) and Municipal Corporation Rourkela.
‘High capital and operational expenditures hinder the use of technology to curb pollution’
Bill Shukla is Executive Vice President (Air Pollution Control and Water and Waste Solutions), Thermax Limited.
‘The mantra of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rethink must be applied to treat pollution’
Vishnu Vyshak, Certified Environmentalist, Environment Officer in Pharmaceutical MNC.
Pix1: Electrostatic precipitator for industrial pollution control. Picture credit: Thermax Limited