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Comments on hazardous waste trade & guidelines on e-Waste

Written By mediavigil on Monday, October 22, 2007 | 1:47 AM


Ms. Meena Gupta
Ministry of Environment & Forests
Government of India

Sub. : Comments on hazardous waste trade related to shipbreaking and guidelines on e-Waste

Dear Mrs. Gupta,

This is to bring to your attention to the trend of waste of all kinds following the path of least resistance. After hazardous wastes, now municipal and hospital wastes too is being dumped in our country. It is not that we did not know about it but the condemnation from the Union Health Minister makes it noteworthy.

The action of Kerela Government and condemnation by the Union Health Ministry makes a case for merger of Union Environment Ministry with it because it is more concerned about the environmental health of the citizens.

Our country is confronted with the huge problem of e-waste - both locally generated and internationally imported. While there has been initiatives to set regulations for hazardous wastes and e-waste management they have typically remained paperwork because of lack of enforcement of safeguards.

The guidelines by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to manage e-waste does show that you are seized with the matter but although we are likely to generate 800,000 tonnes of electronic waste by 2012, it has been decided not to enact specific e-waste legislation and chosen to formulate guidelines instead. While the guidelines have very detailed technical recommendations, the problem is the less of technology but more of institutional arrangements for waste to be collected, recycled, finally treated or disposed off using a take back mechanism. In such a scenario, it is of utmost importance that a separate set of rules such as Electronic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules be set up for this purpose given the fact that e-waste has scattered generation besides registered waste generations such as industry.

Although the custom officials of the Kochi port deserve appreciation unlike the officials at Alang port in Gujarat who have continued to let hazardous waste enter Indian waters with impunity. In Kochi three containers sent from New York based Belsun Corporation in the name of recycling had medical wastes, municipal, surgical, bio-medical and even e-waste. Meanwhile Kerala government has sought the immediate return to its port of origin three containers carrying urban waste, which arrived at the Kochi Port from the US. P.K. Sreemathy. Kerela Health Minister has asked the Customs authorities to return the containers and initiate legal proceedings against the Kochi-based company that had imported it.

Like Kochi at Alang port too the ship named Blue Lady (SS Norway) that was allowed anchorage on humanitarian grounds admittedly has huge amount of hazardous wastes like asbestos waste, radioactive material, incineration ash, ballast water, PCBs, heavy metals but due to the lame and hollow excuse of supposed irreversibility of the ship offered by Gopal Subramaniam, Additional Solicitor General, it remains there. Although Prof. MGK Menon, Chairman, High Power Committee on Hazardous Wastes had recommended that it should be sent back. In this case the company in question is Star Cruise Ltd that has so far successfully attempted to escape its decontamination cost in the aftermath of boiler explosion of 2003 in Miami.

In March 2007, Bhagvatsinh Haubha Gohil, Sarpanch of Sosiya, Tehsil Talaja, Gujarat filed an application on behalf of 12 Sarpanchs and 30, 000 people who live within the distance of 1 to 25 Kms. from the ship breaking yard at Alang before Hon’ble Chief Justice Balakrishnan bench who listed the matter for hearing before the Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice S H Kapadia bench in the Blue Lady case but the same was not heard till date. These people largely depend on seafood that is under threat from ship-breaking. The ship in question contains large amount of asbestos that poses huge risk of exposure to the villagers. Their application is yet to be heard although final orders were passed on 11th September, 2007. The 45 year old, 315-metre long and 16-storey asbestos laden toxic ship still has radioactive material at more than 1000 places. A clarification application filed on 4th October, 2007 is pending before the apex court.

As per Union Environment Secretary headed Technical Experts Committee constituted by the Joint Secretary, Mr R K Vais as per apex court’s order noted that the hazardous waste generating ship-breaking industry is already known to have a higher accident rate (2 workers per 1000) than the mining industry (0.34 per 1000). This is considered the worst in the world, and 16 % of workers here are suffering asbestos related diseases. Since 1995, Environment Ministry has been guilty of numerous acts of omission and commission that endangers environmental health. It is the respondent in the hazardous wastes case and has been fined by the apex court for dereliction of duty.
By not hearing the matter of gross illegality committed by Riky, the Danish ship and by condoning the entry of Blue Lady in Indian territorial waters in violation of court's own orders of 14 October 2003 and 6th September, 2007 all relevant international laws such as Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal has been violated besides international labour conventions and treaties -- that govern the breaking of contaminated ships - to all of which India is a signatory. In order to ensure safe ship-breaking activity, the following mandatory guidelines for protecting the environmental and occupational health is proposed:-
1. Ship breaking activity must operate under the clear mandate for the decontamination (pre-cleaning) of ships of their hazardous substances including asbestos, radioactive material, waste oils, gases and both solid and liquid PCB contaminated material and any other substances covered by the Basel Convention prior to imports for breaking.
2. If the ship breaking facility is not deemed by the country of import, or the country of export as possessing the capability for “Environmentally Sound Management” then import/export must be prohibited. Exporting country can be the country where a ship owner is located, a port state, or the flag state.
3. Parties to the Convention shall prohibit trade in hazardous wastes between themselves and non-Parties without a special bi/multilateral Agreement. Thus a Basel Party cannot import an “end-of-life hazardous ship” from a non-Basel Party without a special bi/multilateral agreement.
4. A Basel Party wishing to export a ship containing hazardous materials for scrapping must first notify and then receive consent from recipient country prior to export. Prior Informed Consent (PIC) paperwork is required including a notification indicating that the ship does not contain any hazardous or radioactive substances onboard. Such a notification will require full sampling and testing of various onboard materials.
5. The ship should be properly decontaminated by the ship owner prior to export for its breaking. This should be ensured by the government agency. Basel Parties in Annex VII must prohibit the export of “end-of-life hazardous ships” to non-Annex VII countries such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, or China.
6. Waste generated by the ship breaking process should be classified into hazardous (unreported) and non-hazardous categories, and their quantity should be made known to the concerned authority.
7. All waste management activities should be in accordance with the Basel Convention Guideline on the Full and Partial Dismantlement of Ships.
8. Disposal of hazardous waste materials such as oils, asbestos, PCB contaminated material, etc. should be accomplished in a proper manner. PCB contaminated material must be disposed of in accordance with the facilities and norms and guidelines established under the Basel and Stockholm Conventions with no generation of persistent organic pollutants, and complete containment of all gaseous, liquid and solid residues for analysis and, if needed, reprocessing. Such disposed of material should be isolated and storedin a specified placed earmarked and designed for this purpose. Special care must be taken in the handling of asbestos wastes, and total quantities of such waste should be made known to the concerned authorities. Under no circumstances should asbestos, or asbestos or PCB material be recycled.
9. The ship breaking industries should be given authorisation and renewal only if an industry has facilities for disposal of waste in environmentally sound manner.
10. The government agency should insist that all quantities of waste oil, sludge and other similar mineral oils and paints chips are carefully removed and contained during the entire breaking process and taken immediately to safely designed, and contained storage areas outside the beach, for safe disposal. Proper containment means that barriers exist between the environment and the hazardous ship material at all times.
11. There should be immediate ban of open burning of any material whether hazardous or non-hazardous. Burning of plastics and treated woods will likely create dangerous persistent organic pollutants such as dioxins and furans.
12. The plots where no activities are being currently conducted should not be allowed to commence any fresh ship breaking activity unless they have necessary authorization.
13. Government agency should ensure continuous monitoring of ambient air and noise level as per the standards fixed. It must install proper equipment and infrastructure for analysis to enable it to conduct first level inspection of hazardous material, radio-active substances.
14. The continuation or expansion of the ship breaking operations should be permitted subject to compliance with the all recommendations for ship breakers found herein.
15. “Gas-free for hot work” Certificate: “Gas-free for hot work certificate is mandatory for the seller of tankers before such ships are handed over to the recycling yard. Such certificates have to be obtained from the last port of call based on certificate issued by the classification society. No ship should be given a beaching permission unless Gas Free for Hot Work certificate is shown. Any explosion irrespective of the possession of certification should be dealt sternly and the license of the plot holder should be cancelled and Explosives inspector should be prosecuted accordingly for giving false certificate.
16. An additional, second, “Gas-Free for hot work” inspection must be done at the Shipbreaking facility just prior to cutting and other work to ensure that no build-up of gases from unknown sources has occurred.
17. Officials should visit sites at regular intervals so that the plot owners know that these institutions are serious about improvement in operational standards.
18. Avoid seepage of oil or sludge: No tanker should be permitted to be dismantled or lightened or discharge anything in the sea or seabed away from shore, prior to docking or beaching. This is necessary to avoid seepage of oil or sludge in the sea.
19. From labour safety point of view: Insurance for workers must be made mandatory before breaking permission is granted.
20. All operations must be conducted in accordance with the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Guideline on Shipbreaking.
21. Use of Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs) by workers: Use of PPEs such as helmets, safety shoes, welding goggles, safety belt with safety line, hand gloves, self contained safety apparatus, respirators and masks etc. of relevant recommendation or standard must be made mandatory and the workers should be trained for using such equipment. The authorities must ensure use of PPEs by the workers for their safety.
22. Gas detectors: Use of gas detectors also must be made compulsory. Workers should be properly trained on the use of the gas detectors. Gas detectors should be kept ready for use duly calibrated. Their use should be properly monitored and implemented.
23. Fire fighting equipments with adequate water storage and adequate space for easy movement should be provided in the recycling facility.
24. Working hours should be specified and the operation should be carried out only during daytime.
25. Breaking operation should be allowed to commence only after removal of all kinds of petroleum products such as oil, fuel in tank etc. and gas, including CO2 gas of the ship.
26. Ship recycler shall not be allowed to throw into the sea any waste materials such as oil cakes, dead cargo of inorganic stuff like hydrated/solidified cement, thermocol pieces, asbestos, PCB contaminated material, pait residues, wooden pieces, rubber pieces, scrap iron and other metallic pieces, glass wool, rubber pipes and gaskets, PVC pipelines and pieces of PVC sheets but shall ensure that such waste materials are collected in secured storage facility.
27. The above measures apply to both private vessels and decommissioned government owned vessels and all future national and international laws must only stipulate provisions, which are not less environmentally sound than those contained herein.

With regard to e-waste, there is an urgent necessity of proper management therefore following is suggested for consideration:

1. Promulgate an all-embracing national E-waste Management law, and an all-encompassing policy.
2. Initiate the process for complete national level assessment, covering all the cities and all the sectors.
3. Promote Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities in schools, colleges, industry etc. to enhance the knowledge base on E-waste management.
4. Formulate and regulate occupational health safety norms for the E-waste recycling, now mainly confined to the informal sector.
5. Review the trade policy and exim classification codes to plug the loopholes often being misused for cross-border dumping of E-waste into India.
6. Insist on stringent enforcement against wanton infringement of Basel convention and E-waste dumping by preferring incarceration over monetary penalties for demonstrating deterrent impact.
7. Enforce labeling of all computer monitors, television sets and other household/industrial electronic devices for declaration of hazardous material contents with a view to identifying environmental hazards and ensuring proper material management and E-waste disposal.
8. Act to enforce on the lines of EU’s RoHS Directive that stands for "the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment". This Directive bans the placing on the EU market of new electrical and electronic equipment containing more than agreed levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants.
9. Announce incentives for growth of E-waste disposal agencies so that remediation of environmental damage, threats of irreversible loss and lack of scientific knowledge do not anymore pose hazards to human health and environment.
10. Introduce producer responsibility into Indian process, practices and procedures so that preventive accountability gains preponderance over polluter immunity.

Thanking you,

Yours sincerely
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