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Dangerous Delhi

Source : Business World, New Delhi, 12 Aug 2014

A study by Toxic Links identifies 18 sites as potential ‘hotspots’ mapping the city’s most polluting centres.

The national capital region has already been termed the most polluted city in the world. On Tuesday (12 August) a report was released explaining how it has gained its notoriety and listed other lurking dangers in and around the capital that make it a risky place to live in.

Despite dictates to clear industrial activity from the capital close to two decades ago, illegal waste disposal and segregation has led to severe air, soil and water contamination putting at risk the residents of the city.

In Delhi, polluting industrial sites dot the entire city, which can probably be fatally dangerous for its residents, claims a study -- On the Edge -- released today. A Delhi-based NGO Toxics Link has been monitoring closely the hazardous waste disposal and contamination in the country for almost 15 years. And according to Satish Sinha, Associate director of Toxics Link, “As per the Master Plan Delhi (MPD) 2021, all polluting industries need to be shifted out of Delhi by 2021. Though a lot of efforts have been made, the problem persists. In 2011, MCD was supposed to close down around 22,000 industrial units, but not much seems to have been done.”

IIn a first of its kind study covering 51 clusters, the NGO identified 18 sites as potential ‘hotspots’ mapping the city’s most polluting centres. These sites are said to be regularly contaminating the city’s environment by releasing toxic pollutants. Fifty-one sites located in and near the NCR were examined on parameters such of the industrial processes used, use of chemicals, discharge and emissions, disposal methods, and occupational health & safety.

A majority of the sites ‘harbour unauthorised industrial activities’ and are located in or near residential areas, claims the study. Spread across the length and breadth of the city from Samaipur Badli in the north to Mayapuri and Okhla in the south; Nazafgarh in the northwest to Mandoli in east, these activities are causing “unacceptable environmental impacts” says the study. The sites surveyed have all been found to fail most safety, environment and health parameters.

Illegal operations include lead acid battery recycling, pickling and e-waste recycling, CFL processing, textile dyeing and metal works without proper gear or precautions releasing acids, emitting toxic fumes of lead, mercury and other hazardous substances into the environment unchecked. The study hints at the long term damage underway with the gradual pollution of the city.

“The hotspots are spread across Delhi; and the toxic releases could be gradually poisoning the entire city inhabitants,” says Priti Mahesh, Chief Program Coordinator, Toxics Link. “Most of the times the diseases caused by such environmental pollution remain undetected- resulting in much greater damage to the body” she adds

While some are more damaging than others, most sites are ticking bombs waiting to implode – much like the Cobalt 60 leak in Mayapuri in 2010 killing one, severely impacting seven and an unknown number directly or indirectly impacted by radiation – intensity of which is not known till date.

Be it the 110 lead acid battery recycling units at Prem Nagar, near Mandoli, which use coal to fuel crude furnaces and recover lead releasing lead fumes and ash contaminating the air and soil or the 1,200 small units in Wazirpur involved in pickling (treatment for metal surfaces used to remove impurities) – all have been classified as hazardous industrial activities and banned within the city limits. Concentrated acids are used in the pickling units leading to acid fumes in the work spaces and the used acid is discharged into water bodies or soil, without any environmental safeguards.

Additionally, the three landfills in the city are also loaded beyond their capacity, with next to nil efforts from the government to control the leachate – draining into the soil and water directly. India has enacted several laws to safeguard environment but they have not been implemented strictly. Thousands of small and medium polluting enterprises, recycling units, unorganised markets exist in the state, whose activities are very polluting.” says Ravi Agarwal, Director, Toxics Link. He adds, ‘Unless we start addressing these concerns, we might be putting Delhi at a brink of an environmental disaster’.

Incidentally, World Health Organisation earlier this year in May termed Delhi as the most polluted city, worse than the smog filled Beijing. According to the international agency, about a quarter of all diseases (worldwide) are caused due to prolonged exposure to environmental pollution.

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