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Proposed RDF based Dioxins factory in Agra, a threat to public health

Written By Gopal Krishna on Thursday, August 21, 2008 | 12:17 AM

Amid uproarious scenes at the public hearing for environmental clearance on a proposed municipal solid waste facility involving a waste to energy plant in the Agra district, environmentalists, public health researchers, villagers from Kuberpur and local residents sought its postponement in the absence of full Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). It is a Rs 1.75 billion project. The absence of the Hindi version of the EIA report outraged the resiednts. This mandatory environmental clearance process was a fiasco. In pursuance of the newspaper advertisement of the UP Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) convened this public hearing at the Agra Collectorate on August 19, 2008.

The Kuberpur, the site for the proposed plant is dangerously close to the Taj Mahal and the Yamuna river, and is in the sensitive Taj Trapezium Zone (a 10,400 sq km area around the monument)... Environmental impact assessment studies are yet to be made and details of the project still to be worked out.

The project envisages setting up a compost plant of 350 tonnes daily capacity for converting biodegradable waste into humus like organic fertiliser/soil enricher for use in agriculture. There are serious reservations about the utility, viability and practicality of the project.

The Executive Summary of the EIA for the proposed Sanitary Landfill & Composting Site, Kuberpur, Agra for UP Jal Nigam prepared by Grass Roots Research & Creation Pvt Ltd claims, "The proposed solid waste management facility shall involve conversion of waste to Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) which has a high calorific value and can be used in power generation." The fact is that Agra waste has a low calorific value of about 800 cal/kg and the required calorific value is 2000-3000 cal/kg. Not surprisingly, so far all such plants have failed in the country. In fact a White Paper by Union Ministry of Environment and Forests says that the burning treatment of municipal waste is not feasible. The project is about 2 km away from the Taj Mahal and in the vicinity of the proposed Taj National Park.

At the public hearing, it emerged from the presentations of Irfan Furniturewala, owner of Mumbai based Hanjer Biotech Energies Pvt Ltd that burning of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) based waste-to-energy plant is part of the proposed compost plant and landfill site in India. The company in question has made unverified claims that it is running similar plants elsewhere in the country. The residents and villagers demanded that a public hearing be held after verifying such claims and after the scrutiny of the EIA report, Detailed Project Report and the Project Design document. To date the process has not been transparent, said Bahadur Singh, President, Rashtriya Panchayati Raj Gram Pradhan Sangathan, Agra. He strongly objected to urban waste being dumped in rural areas like Kuberpur.

Under instructions from and Union Urban Development Ministry and Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), this proposed project is being undertaken in violation of the Supreme Court orders dated May 15, 2007 in the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 888 of 1996 that recommends only Biomethanation-a biological technology- based waste to energy plant and not burn technology. These burn technologies include incineration & pelletisation or RDF (also misleadingly referred to as green coal). This project is receiving subsidies from MNRE, it is a 'top down' project since MNRE has issued an executive letter to the UP's Chief Secretary. So far, this project is being pushed ahead despite serious concerns, including - loss of livelihood for wastepickers, an already marginalised group; toxic releases, including air emissions, liquid discharges and ash/slag;waste of energy that could be saved by recycling, etc.; diversion of financial resources from environmentally friendly alternatives and greenwashing of waste disposal as 'climate-friendly' even as its polluting nature is undisputed

The RDF (Refuse-Derived Fuel) based project involves emission of Persistent Organic Pollutants like dioxins, furans and heavy metals like mercury and lead. Dioxins are cancer causing and endocrine disruptors with intergenerational health impacts. The ash that results from burning the waste is more complex than managing municipal waste. Clearly, the proposed solution is worse than the problem .

Instead of undertaking RDF projects, zero waste initiatives like recycling and composting can save more energy than what the proposed projects can generate giving more livelihood opportunities to the urban poor.

Institute of Public Health Engineers, Centre for Science and Environment, ToxicsWatch and several senior citizens and members of Supreme Court Monitoring Committee have expressed their opposition to this highly polluting and inappropriate waste treatment technology.
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