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Harmful fly ash affecting lungs of Delhi residents

Fly ash is a powdery component released on combustion of coal, especially from thermal power plants

delhi Updated: May 06, 2016 14:34 IST
The Delhi government had shut down the Rajghat thermal power station after a study by IIT Kanpur said fly ash caused pollution.
The Delhi government had shut down the Rajghat thermal power station after a study by IIT Kanpur said fly ash caused pollution.(Hindustan Times)

Scientists who studied pollution in the Capital were surprised to find the presence of fly ash in the air given that Delhi doesn’t have any big thermal power plants.

Fly ash is a powdery component released on combustion of coal, especially from thermal power plants. Burning of coal in the open also releases the harmful toxin.

The Badarpur thermal plant is the only functional plant in Delhi.

The Delhi government said it would shut down the Rajghat and the Badarpur power plants, after the IIT Kanpur report said fly ash was a prominent pollutant in Delhi’s air in summers. The former was shut but the latter is partially functional.

The Delhi government wrote to the National Thermal Power Corporation to shut the plant in Dadri, Gautam Budh Nagar. A senior Delhi government power department official said the Uttar Pradesh government was unresponsive. “We have written to the UP government thrice but there is no response from them yet,” the official said.

“Two units in the Badarpur plant have been allowed to operate as their pollution levels have been brought down to permissible limits,” the official said.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), however, called for the closure of the plant entirely.

“It is surprising that Delhi has a problem of fly ash. Next to the plant, a fly ash pit spread over an area of 767 acres is growing,” said CSE chairperson Sunita Narain.

Also read: Landfills or pollution bombs? Delhi’s garbage dumps spewing toxic gases

The IIT Kanpur report said that one particular source of fly ash has not been identified but Delhi’s power plants are part of the problem.

“In summer, coal and fly ash contribute to about 30% of PM10. Unless sources contributing to fly ash are controlled, one cannot expect significant improvement in air quality. It appears that these sources are more fugitive in nature than regular point sources, the report said.

It also said that the two large power plants in city are also important sources of flyash. “Probably the major part is re-suspension of fly ash from fly ash ponds (in use or abandoned) which are not maintained properly and become dry in summer. Fly ash emission from hotels, restaurants and tandoors also cause large emissions and requires better housekeeping and proper fly ash disposal,” the report said.

Unregulated industries such as pottery that rely on combustion of coal are also to blame. Potters use coal and wood to bake their products. Potter families in Sarojini Nagar were forced to stop their baking activity because of the pollution from their units.

Illegal industries in northeast Delhi also continue to thrive. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee conducts raids to shut polluting units but the problem persists.

“These are small units that burn coal to produce heat. Blast furnaces and potteries come under DPCC’s prohibited list of industries but some of them are hidden in people’s homes or are in the outskirts. They function furtively and keep shutting and reopening. We have shut many in the past,” said a senior DPCC official.

According to IIT Kanpur scientists, the best way to avoid fly ash from entering the air is to keep the fly ash pond moist by maintaining a millimeter-thick layer of water over it.

‘We can’t open our windows’

For six long years, residents of Sukhdev Vihar have been waging a battle against the waste-to-energy plant that stands a few hundred metres from their home.

Umesh Bahri (63) has been running from pillar to post, attending court hearings and meeting various people to discuss how the plant affected their life.

Bahri is joined by several others in the neighbourhood who feel that the plant should be shifted.

According to Bahri, the plant emits ash and, sometimes, a foul smell. Opening windows is nearly impossible.

Dr Umesh Bahri is waging a battle against a waste to energy plant at Sukhdev vihar in New Delhi. (Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times)

Others in the area agree.

“Our battle is ongoing. We have written to several people, a case is ongoing at the National Green Tribunal. There are people who have shifted out because of the problems. We cannot open our windows as white or grey ash gets deposited on every surface possible,” said Ranjit Devraj, a resident.

Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia also visited the plant last year after complaints. He ordered a thorough check and said all measures must be followed to make sure there is no pollution.

While the Delhi Pollution Control Committee said that the emissions from the plant are now under control, residents disagree.

“If that were the case, why would any court still be entertaining us?” said Devraj.