Home arrow Archives arrow Open Forum arrow Open Forum 2006 arrow Hazardous Waste:EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT IMPERATIVE, by Dhurjati Mukherjee
News and Features
INFA Digest
Parliament Spotlight
Journalism Awards
Hazardous Waste:EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT IMPERATIVE, by Dhurjati Mukherjee Print E-mail


Hazardous Waste


By Dhurjati Mukherjee

With rapid advancement and industrialization, generation of different kinds of wastes has increased significantly in recent times, specially in the last decade or so. Among the different types, the most disturbing and injurious to human health is hazardous wastes, whose management and control has been a significant problem in most countries of the world.

Hazardous waste thus may be defined as any discarded liquid or solid that contains substances known to be: fatal to humans or laboratory animals in low doses; toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic or teratogenic to humans or other life forms;ignitable with a flash point less than 600 C; corrosive; or explosive or highly reactive that is, undergoes violent chemical reactions either by itself or when mixed with other materials. These wastes can be anything from pesticides to toxic byproducts from the industrial sector and come in various forms like liquid and sludge.

While each country is governed by different set of rules and perceptions in categorizing hazardous waste, it is the Basel Convention on Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes that is the widely regarded for disposal and other matters. In 1994 a diverse coalition of environmentalists and developing countries passed thee Basel Ban in Geneva, which became a forerunner to a wider ban on all forms of hazardous waste. In fact, the Basel Convention is the most recognized international law when it comes to hazardous waste, even though there are other agreements such as the Rotterdam Convention (1998).

In India, the rapid growth of industrial as also the services sectors has put the country in a situation where controlling hazardous waste has emerged as a serious problem. An important component of this is e-waste, which a study by the Environment Management and Policy Research has confirmed would boomerang in the next five years, if effective steps were not taken now. Undertaken in Bangalore, it has predicted that such e-waste would increase 10-fold by the year 2020.

The burning of plastics and printed circuit boards and all other forms of e-waste in illegal dumps near residential colonies release toxic and carcinogenic substances into the air. The recyclers in most parts of the country do not have the right technology and are ill- equipped to handle such waste. One may mention here that the common forms of e-waste like barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium lead and mercury severely jeopardize the environment and affect human health. While barium damages heart and liver, beryllium and cadmium may lead to cancer.

Apart from this, India has the world’s largest scrapping site for ocean-going ships in Alang in Gujarat. Due to poor infrastructure and awful working conditions, the industry presents a picture of continuing environmental degradation from contamination to ineffective implementation of safety standards. According to a Greenpeace report on Alang shipyard: “Sediments in Alang were more contaminated than the most heavily industrialized areas”. The dangerous conditions of falling debris, explosions caused by the on-bound gases and suffocation from carbon dioxide causing deaths and injuries aggravate the problem there.

The Greenpeace report has further pointed out that one in every four workers succumbed to cancer because of exposure to toxic fumes at the site. Moreover, ship breaking activities affect even the neighbouring areas beyond the yard as pollutants seep into the natural environment. This has a disastrous affect, damaging not only agricultural lands and livelihoods and also the health of the inhabitants, who are mostly poor and do not have enough money for proper treatment.

There are regulations on a national level for hazardous waste and chemicals, including the Hazardous Waste Management and Handling Rules of December 1989 and various amendments have come into force from time to time. These prohibit the impost of hazardous waste to and from India for dumping or disposal and the need to address the requirements as outlined by the Basel Convention. But the Government continues to lack the political will for effective implementation of the rules to protect the communities from environmental pollution if such ship breaking or e-waste recycling/processing takes place in an amateurish manner.         

As many developed countries implement stricter environmental regulations, they try to transfer their toxic technologies to the Third World. India is just not a soft target but rather has the image of a welcome target for the dumping of toxic vessels. Look at the way it has responded with the Riky and the Clemenceau. Environmentalists contend that the time has come for the government to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem and act accordingly.

Among the biggest problems in cleaning any hazardous waste sites are questions of liability and the degree of purity required. In many cities, these problems have created large areas of contaminated properties (known as brownfields) that have been abandoned or are not being used to their potential because of real or suspected pollution. It is estimated that up to one-third of all commercial and industrial sites in many big cities fall in this category.

While producing less waste has been a cry the world over, recycling and reuse also eliminates hazardous wastes and pollution. Many waste products of one process or industry are valuable commodities in another. Already, over 10 per cent of the wastes that would otherwise enter the waste stream in the United States are sent to surplus material exchanges where they are sold as raw materials for use by other industries. In India also a considerable amount of waste is recycled but the process adopted here may not always be environment friendly. 

Several processes are available to make hazardous waste less toxic, which includes physical treatments, incineration and chemical processing. It is generally agreed that incineration is quick and relatively easy and most suitable for many countries, including India, as the ash resulting from incineration is reduced in volume up to 90 per cent and often is safer to store in a landfill or other disposal site than the original wastes.

However, one of the most popular solutions for hazardous waste has been land-filling. Newer techniques make it possible to create safe and modern landfills that are acceptable for disposing of many hazardous wastes. The first line of defense in a secure landfill is a thick bottom cushion of compacted clay that surrounds the pit like a bathtub. Moist clay is flexible and resists cracking if the ground shifts. It is impermeable to groundwater and will safely contain wastes. It needs to be mentioned here that when the landfill has reached its optimum capacity, a cover like the bottom sandwich of clay, plastic and soil should cap the site.

Hazardous waste management has indeed become a problem, right from transportation to disposal sites as also its storage and/or disposal. This is more so because such wastes remain toxic long after businesses that created them are gone. As in the case with nuclear wastes, it is necessary to create strong institutional framework for proper care and management of these wastes so that they may not jeopardize the environment and affect human health. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)







< Previous   Next >
  Mambo powered by Best-IT