On Tuesday, Delhi-based NGO Toxics Link released a study identifying 16 pollution ‘hotspots’ in the city, where pollution — through illegal waste disposal, segregation, severe soil, water and air contamination — is proving to be fatal for residents.
In a first-of-its-kind study, the NGO covered 51 industrial clusters and identified 16 of them as pollution hotspots on parameters pertaining to industrial processes used, use of chemicals, discharge and emissions, disposal methods, and occupational health and safety.
Some of these hotspots, like Mayapuri where the leak of radioactive Cobalt 60 killed one and impacted an unknown number due to radiation, have already underscored the severity of the problem.
But while the geographically varied hotspots have their own unique set of challenges, the commonalities linking these places require urgent “identification of remedial options”, immediate “implementation of remedial measures” and continious “long-term monitoring”, says the study.
For instance, unsafe working conditions such as “unguarded machinery, slippery floors, inadequate fire precautions or poor ventilation” along with “issues related to storage, use and disposal of chemicals or hazardous materials”, “high temperature processes” with no emission control and the severe lack of proper “waste disposal” was found in virtually all polluting units.
Moreover, units “working on plastic processing, pickling or lead acid battery recycling, had very poor ventilation” while e-waste units and landfills employed young children and women as cheap labor — exposing them to health hazards.
Another unique challenge for combating pollution in Delhi, the study found, was to address trans-boundary pollution in the city. For instance, lead acid battery pollution is caused by illegal recycling units in Prem Nagar in Uttar Pradesh. But these units draw water and power from Delhi and the pollution affects both states.
“The hotspots are spread across Delhi, and the toxic releases could be gradually poisoning the entire city inhabitants. Most of the times the diseases caused by such environmental pollution remain undetected, resulting in much greater damage to the body,” Priti Mahesh, chief programme coordinator,Toxics Link, said.
Moreover, a number of these units are located in residential areas, claims the study. Satish Sinha, associate director, Toxics Link, notes that, “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.”
The study notes that such apathy on behalf of government bodies isn’t uncommon. For instance, the State Environment Report for Delhi, 2010, identified the existence of a number of metal and textile industries as a source of pollution, but little has been done by the Delhi government in terms of stemming this pollution.
The study adds that “industries and factories were least bothered about the environment. For them, reducing costs is the main motive” and, consequently, while a number of them claim to be connected to effluent-treatment plants and many units claim that hazardous waste was being disposed off in a proper manner, the study found no documentary evidence of this.