“What you do not see is worse than what you see!” was our expert panel discussion in the 2016- 2017 Environment and Health Series organised by Health Environment Foundation under the aegis of India International Centre, New Delhi on 18 August 2016, in partnership with Consumers India. It emphasizes the importance and ubiquitous nature of the Invisible Pollutants in our environment.
The keynote address was delivered by Mr. JK Dadoo, IAS Additional Secretary to Government of India, which was followed by presentations from Ms. Lesley Onyon, Regional Director, World Health Organisation, SEARO office; Dr. TK Joshi, Occupational and Environment Health consultant; Dr. Jayashree Gupta, President, Consumers India. Dr. Naresh Gupta, Director- Professor, MAMC and President, Health Environment Foundation was the moderator.
The programme was a well-organized and well-attended with well-informed audience from various walks of life. They came out as consciously committed lot.
It emerged from the panel discussion and audience participation that:
- Primarily, the domains of environmental pollutions are the Air, Water, Land, or Energy pollution.
- The sources of these pollutants are many and may vary from place to place.
- These sources could be Natural or Man-made (Anthropogenic)
- Natural sources have rather remained stable over recent times, but the anthropogenic sources are expanding and new ones are emerging such as the e-Waste and the Pharmaceutical waste.
- Seven types of Wastes were highlighted for their management, being important sources of pollution in Delhi. These are the Municipal solid waste, Hazardous waste, Electronic waste, Bio-Medical waste, Plastic waste, Construction & demolition waste, and Bio-degradable waste. In addition, there are opportunities in furthering Green initiatives, Biodiversity conservation and limiting Climate Change.
- Environment pollutants are more often is invisible, and ‘What you do not see is worse than what you see!’ is more dangerous! This creates morbidity and mortality by critically affecting several organ-systems such as nervous system, kidneys, liver, intestines, skin, and blood. The younger population and the pregnant mothers are more vulnerable. The unborn baby/ infants in mother’s womb are the worst affected.
- WHO estimates Air Pollution to be responsible for over 8 million deaths per annum- this is more than the total deaths from HIV, Malaria and Tuberculosis put together.
- Anthropogenic pollutants of Air come from release of chemicals, gases and small particles from several activities like the vehicles, construction, mining, industrial discharge, power units, fossil fuel/ crop burning, agriculture and household chores. The two air pollutants which are of grave concern are the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5), particles so small they get ingested deep into the lungs and staying there to cause damage. Ozone adds to the Smog formation.
- Water in air, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and methane are the Greenhouse Gases, that bring in Climate Change from warming of the earth.
- In Delhi, according to recent study, (particulate matter) Air Pollution occurs from nine million vehicles (55%), industrial emissions (20%), DG Sets (15%, and other sources.
- Water Pollution is an important source for microbiological diseases in humans, and could be from direct or indirect spread. Water-borne diseases in India are a major focal point in our nation’s march towards Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan, accounting for the widespread common diarrhoea diseases especially among children, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis, and a number of other faeco-orally transmitted infections. Most of them are preventable. In addition, the stagnant or the ‘bad water’ water can become a source of mosquitos spreading other microbial diseases like malaria, dengue, chikunguniya etc. During the summer- rainy months, the human-animal face-oral contamination of water increases the incidence on many common transmissible infections. Proper hygiene, hand washing, and waste disposal are paramount for prevention.
- Ground Water also faces threat from chemical pollution from inorganic elements like arsenic, fluoride, lead, iron, mercury as also many an organic harmful solvent in the effluents discharged into water bodies. Another new concern arises from the escape of pharmaceutical drugs into water and soil with deleterious effects on human health and the biodiversity.
- With passage of time, the quality of ground water has undergone changes, making much it less usable- sometimes even hazardous. Inland salinity is a problem in arid/ semi-arid regions of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, and a smaller extent in Delhi NCR, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Coastal Salinity is encountered in many areas along the 7,500 Km Indian subcontinent coastline, in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Porbander, Pondicherry and Orissa. Salinity can be reduced with reverse osmosis (RO Systems), ion exchange and electrodialysis.
- Fluoride in high concentrations (beyond 1.5 mg/L) in ground water for drinking is a major health problem in India, and encountered in the districts of Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh/ Telangana, Orissa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and lesser extent in another half a dozen States including Delhi. The techniques to remove salinity are effective against fluoride contamination too. Activated alumina adsorption is also effective.
- Detection of the presence of another element Arsenic in ground water is more recent. Arsenic compounds have been used in several small and large-scale manufacturing activities. Contamination of ground water from arsenic has serious health impacts on human beings. It is found in several States in India, mainly West Bengal, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, and Assam. Removal of arsenic from ground water is limited to activated alumina adsorption, and one has to rely on arsenic-free aquifers or alternative sources.
- Many of these sources of pollutants (vide supra) also enter the water besides the soil and the land that also faces the onslaught of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides from the agriculture runoff.
- The State of Delhi generates 700 million gallons per day (MGD) of Waste Water, of which 80% is of domestic origin. Installed Sewerage Treatment Capacity in 35 Plants (STP) is 682 MGD, with utilization factor of about 60%. There are Effluent Treatment Plants (ETP) in 2,000 industrial units.
- Recycling of the un-utilized wastewater back into water bodies may add to on-going pollution of sound water.
- Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules 2016 are in place now, and are striving for effective implementation. Four thousand five hundred healthcare institutions rely on the two private operators in Delhi for BMW waste disposal. There are 10 incinerators, 20 autoclaves and 3 microwaves for the purpose.
- e-Waste awaits better recognition. That our computers, laptops and other electronic gadgets could pollute our environment is difficult to comprehend until you realise there are dangerous inorganic and organic compounds that emit into environment during the process of retieving whatever after these are discarded.
- Delhi has 60 collection centres for e-Waste, but no processing facility.
- In Delhi, there are 2,000 that generate 6,000 tonnes of Hazardous Waste every year. There is a stockpile of 50,000 tonnes, of which 75% lies with the CETPs. One fourth is with individual identities.
- Energy Pollution from Light, Noise, and Temperature is disruptive of the natural biorhythms and chronobiology of our systems besides causing direct physical damage to tissues and organs in human body.
- Nutrition in our country constitutes another paradigm of pollution and affects the all-around physical and mental capacity and efficiency. Whereas Malnutrition is a societal issue, the Malnutrition of baby in utero has impacts for generations to come. It needs to be amongst the top most priorities. We need to add to our Life Spans rather than Life Expectancy alone.
- Green Cover is never enough these days. The State of Delhi has 3,000 square kms of green cover, with 20,000 Parks of different sizes, 42 City Forests, 5 Ridges spanning over 8,000 hectares, and 2 Biodiversity Parks.
- ECO Clubs are popular in the Schools of Delhi, and can benefit from expanding in other spheres of everyday life.
- For thwarting the risks from unforeseen Climate Change, it is imperative that there is concerted efforts at the level of public, civl society, industry, manufacturing, administartive departments, and governments.
After debate and discussions, it was concluded that
- We are amply aware of the sources of environmental pollution of air, water, land, and energy
- There is a need for bottoms up approach to tackle this huge health problem to mankind
- I will stop it, only when I know it harms ME
- For this, sensitization and involvement of the youth is of utmost importance
- Nobody’s health is safe until make the poorest of poor healthy
Thus the invisible in What you do not see is worse than what you see! needs to be unravelled to the public, the perpetrators, the administrators and the policy makers all alike, for reducing the environment pollution and its ill effects on health and biodiversity.