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Pollution level near Okhla waste-to-energy plant 25 times above limit

The Indian Express, New Delhi, 4th June, 2013

The process of burning solid waste to convert it to energy at a recycling plant in South Delhi has made the air near the unit 25 times more polluted than the permissible limit, a surprise check of the Okhla waste-to-energy plant has revealed.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) asked Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to conduct a check. The board submitted the findings of the expert committee to the tribunal last week.

According to the report, the levels of dioxin, furan and particulate matter around the Okhla plant is far beyond limits.

The level of dioxin and furan emitted from Boiler Stack I was measured at 12.4 ng TEQ/Nm3 and from Stack II at 2.8 ng TEQ/Nm3. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee allows 0.1 ng TEQ/Nm3.

Dioxins and furans are toxic substances released from burning plastic and cause a range of ailments including cancer.

Particulate matter — smoke or soot — contains tiny, noxious components such as acid that stick together. When inhaled, these can cling to organs and cause lung and heart problems.

Stack II emission for particulate matter was measured at 1,414 mg/Nm3 while the DPCC only allows for 150 mg/Nm3.

"The higher value of particulate matter in Stack II indicates that either the Bag Filter House is not functioning properly or the bag filter fabrics might be damaged and need to be replaced. According to visual observations, emission from Stack II was darker than Stack I during monitoring," the report said.

The committee is yet to test for presence of mercury and other heavy metals.

The Sukhdev Vihar Residents' Welfare Association has been claiming for long that environment norms had been violated at the Okhla plant.

The case, filed by the RWA, started at the Delhi High Court in 2009 and was later shifted to the NGT, which started hearing it earlier this year. The plant started operation in January 2012.
In April, an NGT-appointed commissioner reported that the fly ash leftover from the burnt waste was "truly hazardous" and it could easily escape and be ingested.

After the report was submitted, the NGT ruled that the agencies responsible must ensure that the toxic chemicals are "brought well below permissible levels".

The CPCB official on the committee declined comment, stating that the case was still being heard by the NGT.

Another member of the committee, who is also a scientist and resident of the area, U C Bahri, wrote in his statement: "How can we expect that by making minor changes in the plant design the dioxins and furans reported... can be reduced to .1 ng/TEQ/Nm3? It is childish on part of senior officials and scientist(s) to suggest modifications for bringing it down to the prescribed limit."

The DPCC, which commissioned the Okhla plant, is in the process of commissioning two waste-to-energy plants, expected to be operational by 2014.