Covid-19 waste: Maharashtra pollution body asks BMC to enhance abatement measures
The contractor was told by MPCB to boost their scrubber technology to reduce black smoke emitted from its chimney after burning the biomedical wasteUpdated: Sep 15, 2020 09:25 IST
The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has issued a notice to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) private contractor treating coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and associated biomedical waste to enhance air pollution abatement measures.
SMS Envoclean Private Limited, which is located at Govandi (East), is Mumbai’s only biomedical waste treatment facility appointed by the BMC to deal with the city’s Covid-19 waste.
The contractor was told by MPCB to boost their scrubber technology to reduce black smoke emitted from its chimney after burning the biomedical waste.
MPCB said black smoke was being generated from burning a voluminous amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) kits daily but the unit was not violating emission norms for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
“Plastic contents in the PPE kit when burnt release the black smoke in the vicinity of the unit. As per Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) norms, these PPE kits have to be incinerated on the same day they are collected,” said Anant Harshvardhan, regional officer, (Mumbai), MPCB.
“Emission levels of SMS Envoclean are being monitored by MPCB and CPCB daily through an online mechanism. The unit has not violated the 80 microgram per cubic metre (μg/m³) 24-hour safe limit for NO2, the major pollutant after the burning of waste. However, based on complaints, we have directed the unit to increase its air pollution control scrubbers to further curb the emission of black smoke.”
An air quality researcher, requesting anonymity, pointed out that MPCB was not measuring volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, xylene, toluene, and styrene that are all hazardous to health and are a major by-product from the burning of waste materials.
“Besides benzene, CPCB has no standards for other VOCs. Industries measure their own VOCs. But there is no such measure undertaken by MPCB for smaller industrial units,” the researcher said.
MPCB authorities confirmed that they do not measure VOCs.
MPCB’s direction is based on a September 11 legal notice signed by 100 residents from Govandi, Mankhurd, Deonar and surrounding areas. The notice, issued by advocate Saif Alam to MPCB, cited repeated complaints sent between July and September went unnoticed, nor was there any investigation by the authorities concerned. The notice alleged ignorance by the pollution regulator that residential and slum areas in the vicinity of SMS Envoclean were allegedly breathing poisonous air that are leading to skin ailments. One of the adjoining slums to SMS Envoclean had reported 8.9% Covid-19-related deaths, the notice pointed out.
“There has to be a stringent action against this unit. Ignoring such complainants or delaying action will only create more damage to the residents, who are suffering from tuberculosis (TB) and asthma,” said Alam, a local resident and a patient of allergic bronchitis. “During the Covid-19 pandemic, the risk factor has doubled,” he said.
In 2018, MPCB had issued a closure notice to SMS Envoclean after it had failed to meet safety standards under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.
However, the unit managed to obtain a stay on the order from the Bombay high court (HC). “Later, they refurbished their air pollution control system in full compliance as per the norms,” said Harshvardhan.
HT had reported on August 29 that Mumbai’s Covid-19 waste had reported a 104% rise over three months, and the waste incineration unit had run out of storage space at its one-acre plant.
SMS Envoclean said biomedical waste quantity rose from an average of 12,200 kilograms (kg) per day in June to 24,880 kg per day on average since August.
“Our capacity for incineration is 24,000 kg per day across four chambers that can withstand a maximum temperature of 1,200 degrees Celsius (C). Each unit is lined with bricks to control temperature. However, burning PPE kits is raising the temperature significantly by melting the lining of bricks. As a result, we had to function on either two or three incinerators per day, sparing time for maintenance of overused chambers,” said Amit Nilawar, director, SMS Envoclean.
“However, as far as air pollution control is concerned, we have a detailed procedure (see box) for abatement, and every incineration chamber is fitted with scrubbers working to their optimal capacity. Safety limits have never been violated,” he added.
In August, MPCB had granted permission to SMS Envoclean for sending excess biomedical waste weighing up to 5,000 kg per day to another unit in Taloja in Navi Mumbai called Mumbai Waste Management Limited on the condition that the contractor would bear the cost at Rs 97 per kg.
“So far, we have received a bill in excess of Rs 1 crore for outsourcing excess incinerated waste,” said Nilawar.
Harshvardhan said this mechanism would also help curb any excess emission from the plant’s Govandi (East) unit.
Contrary to MPCB’s claim, Alam has called for shutting down the unit as it violates safe air quality standards. “Since this matter concerns the health of citizens, we will move the Supreme Court (SC) if necessary, to ensure this unit is dismantled,” he said.
However, BMC said they did not have an alternate option for Covid-19 waste incineration in Mumbai yet. “We have asked the local ward office (M East) to check with SMS Envoclean about pollution- related concerns raised by the local residents. Parallel talks are in progress with MPCB to ascertain these allegations,” said a BMC official.
HOW MUMBAI’S WASTE INCINERATOR SAYS IT IS CONTROLLING AIR POLLUTION
SMS Envoclean said they had built a mechanism to ensure minimal emission, as around 25,000 kg of Covid-19 and associated biomedical waste are being incinerated daily at the private waste treatment centre.
“We follow a process of second combustion through scrubbing and water sprinkling to remove hazardous pollutants. Initially, the waste is incinerated in a chamber and the resultant hazardous smoke is transferred to another chamber, where it is burnt for the second time ridding the air of harmful pollutants. Later, it is sent to a third chamber, where the air is filtered using a scrubber. Finally, it is sent to a fourth chamber, where a water sprinkler using chemicals further purifies the air before residual steam is released from the chimney. The chimney is located at a height much above the peripheral residential area and the almost colourless steam disperses quickly into the air. No black soot or smoke is visible,” said Amit Nilawar, director, SMS Envoclean.