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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

After Bombay HC order on ‘dangerously polluted’ Mahul, MPCB says the air is now safer

mumbai Updated: Sep 27, 2019 00:22 IST

Air quality stations belonging to Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) have found air pollution levels in Mahul-Trombay were largely within safe limits between April and September this year, despite the presence of refineries and thermal power plants. This is a drastic improvement compared to the readings submitted before the Bombay high court (HC) and National Green Tribunal (NGT) by research bodies.

On Tuesday, MPCB published air quality data from April to September 2019 for a list of nine pollutants in areas such as Anikgaon, Ambapada, Mahul, Gavanpada in Vishnu Nagar. “The data published is from a combination of air quality stations belonging to MPCB and all plants. We are yet to analyse the trend and issue further directions to industries,” said Sudhir Srivastava, chairman, MPCB. While pollutants like particulate matter, ammonia, and nitrogen dioxide were found to be within safe limits across all refineries and power plants in Mahul, the concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene and toluene , and sulphur dioxide (SO2) were exceptionally high on certain days at select plants. MPCB’s readings were still significantly lower than data recorded by research bodies in 2018. The MPCB’s readings for the past six months show benzene concentration at a maximum of 250.94 microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m3) on August 1 around the Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL) refinery. In NEERI’s report, submitted to MPCB and referenced in an HC order issued earlier this week, benzene was at a maximum 1,182 μg/m3 in February 2018 at the sites of Aegis Logistics, Sea Lord Containers, and BPCL Trombay.

There are no air quality standards available from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for any VOC except benzene, which means any presence of compounds like toluene and xylene may be considered hazardous. Both these VOCs have been recorded in Mahul. An MPCB official said, “We have not been able to identify the exact source for VOC concentration yet but sources from surrounding areas also keep levels high. There has been a reduction in concentration for all other pollutants based on directions by NGT and research bodies. As per current mitigation measures, VOC levels are expected to reduce soon.”

On September 23, the HC had described Mahul as “dangerously polluted” on the basis of reports submitted by Indian Institute of Technology, MPCB, CPCB and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). The HC directed the state to move out 5,500 families staying at Mahul and said no more families should be relocated there. It ruled the state pay transit rent of ₹15,000 per month with a security deposit of ₹45,000 to each family, within 12 weeks.

While the difference between the previous data and MPCB’s recent data remains unexplained, Mahul residents continue to suffer because of the pollutants in their neighbourhood. “Minor fluctuations in pollution data do not change the fact that people have suffered skin diseases, lung problems and even cancer as this zone continues to pose a serious health threat for citizens,” said activist Bilal Khan. While HPCL and BPCL refused to comment on the matter, a spokesperson from Aegis Pvt Ltd said, “The matter is sub judice and it is only right if MPCB assess the trend in air pollution.” Tata Power issued a statement pointing out ambient air quality is also affected by “surrounding activities”. “Values between September 1 and 4, 2019 were high for a brief duration due to the impact of Ganpati festivals/procession/heavy rains in nearby vicinity,” said Tata Power in its statement.

First Published: Sep 27, 2019 00:22 IST

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