There is hope yet for the world's largest ship-breaking yard at Alang, a small coastal town in Gujarat.
The yard has been reeling under 200 million tonnes (MT) of hazardous waste every year, thanks to the country's weak environmental laws and cheap labour.
Toxic waste in the form of asbestos, heavy metals, oil and polychlorinated biphenyls — used for preventing fires on ships — are polluting the coast and the air. It has also been affecting the health of almost 10,000 workers along the 12-kilometre stretch on which ship-breaking is done.
Workers at Alang might finally look up to a cleaner working environment and the sea may be saved from pollution.
On June 16, 10 research students from the Centre for Environment Science and Engineering (CESE) of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) will camp at Alang to implement an "eco-friendly" technology to dispose of and recycle dismantled ship parts.
IIT-B and the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) signed a Memorandum of Understanding in February this year as part of the Green Alang Initiative.
"We have identified areas where the current practices of disposing of asbestos, metals and glass wool can be improved. Our technology will not cause damage to the health (of workers) or environment and will stop pollution," said Professor Shyam Asolekar, head of CESE.
Waste generated after cutting paint-coated metal sheets is now deposited in the inter-tidal region and is be dragged into the sea. But the CESE method will cut these sheets after scraping the paint off.
"Paints contain heavy metal oxides which deposits in the lungs when inhaled, leading to respiratory disorders and tuberculosis. Scraping off the paint, followed by cutting of the sheets with flames will prevent finer particles from being released into the air," Asolekar said.