Hazardous Waste: A Threat to the Indian Ecosystem

  • SumoMe

Industrialization is a major cause for pollution around the world. Although it has brought about progress and development its negative impact on the environment cannot be ignored. Pollution is dependent caused directly or indirectly on industrialization. India is considered to be one of the most polluted countries in the world. To start with, India has a fragile ecosystem balance: the air pollution in the cities are amongst the highest in the world, seventy percent of its water bodies are polluted and unfit for use and its forest areas are among the lowest in the world. Its rapidly growing industries have contributed to the depletion of natural resources and the production of hazardous waste material, which is harmful to its fragile ecosystem and human beings that thrive on it.

What is Hazardous Waste?

Hazardous waste is waste material that is produced by industries on a large scale and by individuals on a small scale. They may be gaseous, liquid or solid. They are harmful to both individuals and the environment if they are left unchecked and untreated and can lead to serious illnesses or even death. Four factors that determine whether a substance is a hazardous waste material:

1. Ignitability
2.Reactivity
3.Corrosivity
3.Toxicity

They differ from common waste products as they cannot be disposed of by ordinary means and are needed to be specially treated to render them harmless.
Hazardous Waste include:

• Sludge left-over from electroplating industries
• Waste from ironing and steel manufacturing industries
• Waste from certain cleaning and/ or degreasing processes

The Environment Protection Agency has incorporated these wastes into lists based on the process that generates them, which include:

• The F-list or the non-specific source waste
• The K-list or the specific source waste
• Discarded waste (the P-list which includes substances which are acutely hazardous and hence handled with extreme care and the U-list which are less hazardous than the P-list).
The F-list and the K-list are industry based while the P-list and the U-list are discarded commercial products. It is alarming to know that almost everything used today is hazardous. Fluorescent light bulbs, batteries, cathode ray tubes, mercury-containing devices, paints, solvents, motor oil, antifreeze, aerosols, caustics and other cleaning chemicals, pesticides, refrigerant-containing devices and so on.

According to the statistics given by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur, India produces 4.4 million tones of hazardous waste annually. Although this figure may seem insubstantial when compared to the United States (275 million tones annually), considering the fragile ecosystem of India, this amount of waste production is enough to throw the ecosystem of balance.

Causes

As stated earlier, industries are major contributors to hazardous waste. However they are not the sole producers. Our homes, our work and entertainment places are also producers of hazardous waste. Most often we unknowingly use products that can be hazardous and we discard them without proper care. The accumulation of hazardous waste can be attributed to our ignorance, our irresponsibility and our inactivity. Industries usually discard their waste in landfills and leave them untreated because of the high expenses involved. This only increases the risk of its destructing effect on the environment and on humans.

Consequences

It is not hard to guess the harm that such pollutants can cause. Hazardous waste can cause the depletion of our natural resources as they are corruptible and toxic in nature. They can render the area where they are dumped poisonous due to their toxic nature. Being hazardous pollutants they also harm the human body and can cause serious illness and even death.

In India, we have witnessed the Bhopal gas tragedy which has taken thousands of lives due to the emission of poisonous gases from a pesticide factory. According to reports 20,000 people died that night and 5.7 lacks suffered bodily damage. The ones who survived suffered multiple organ failure and suffer from various diseases till date.
Recently Himadri Chemicals and Industries, Singur, which was declared fit for closure, emitted carbon-soot laid smoke which enveloped the neighbouring villages. Bimal Panja ,a resident of Mahishtikri village in Singur, complained , “I woke up early in the morning with a feeling of breathlessness…I could not exhale or inhale properly”. According to scientists this black carbon soot can cause nausea, uneasiness, respiratory distress and suffocation. Although the company released a statement saying that it is “completely non-hazardous and harmless”.

Solutions

India is the first country to make constitutional provisions for the improvement and protection of the environment.

1. On July 28, 1989 the Government of India notified the hazardous waste (Management and Handling) Rules which helped in the handling, treatment, transport and disposal of such wastes in an environmentally sound manner.

2. India is also part of the Basel Convention which aims at reducing and controlling of trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste. Being a member it is obliged to regulate and reduce the import of such waste for disposal and also to prohibit export to places which have prohibited the import of such waste, either for recycling or for disposal. It is also expected to minimize the generation of such waste and proper management for waste being generated.

3. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has also taken the responsibility to create awareness in society and other stakeholders and to ensure educational training programs. It has also taken the responsibility to ensure appropriate scientific and technological research and development regarding this issue.

While implementations are not fully realized, we, as responsible citizens, should take up the matters in our own hands in creating awareness in the society at large. Industries should also take the responsibility of their actions by proper treatment and disposal of their waste products. It is also important for us to check our reckless consummation of products which can contribute to hazardous waste. It would be wishful thinking to rid ourselves of such products, however, controlled usage and proper disposal of such products will indeed contribute to the betterment of our society and environment.

Badakynti Nylla Iangnap

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