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Posted at: Jun 4, 2018, 5:48 PM; last updated: Jun 4, 2018, 5:48 PM (IST)

‘Alarming’ levels of mercury contamination found in Singrauli

Findings corroborated by All India Institute of Ayurveda come ahead of World Environment Day

Vibha Sharma

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 4

Ahead of the World Environment Day on June 5 and close on the heels of violent anti-Sterlite protests at Thoothukudi, another alarming update on pollution is coming — this time from the Singrauli region on the border of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and by none other than a government agency.

A study by the All India Institute of Ayurveda (AIIA) in the 300-km area of Sonbhadra district has discovered alarming levels of mercury contamination in hair and nails of villagers as well as in soil and plants tested.

The study refers and infers upon several other studies done in the past, including water testing and analysis of soil and biological sampling of hair, blood and nails, where heavy metals such as mercury were detected, says a statement by the AIIA.

Soil was found to be contaminated in all directions, where coal-fired power plants are operational and cadmium, lead, arsenic and nickel were detected. It is important to note that several studies in the past by CSE in 2012 and PSI in 2009 have over the years indicated a persistent problem of pollution in the region.

According to reports, yesterday more than 900 persons from across the region collected at the Myorepur block in Singrauli to submit their concerns in the light of the report and the recent report submitted by the NGT Core Committee which clearly asked for a moratorium to be implemented on all further expansion in the region as per the guidelines of the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) until the pollution abatement measures are under implementation.

A case was filed by Jagat Narayan Vishwakarma and Ashwini Kumar Dubey, asking for justice for the affected communities and the environment in the district.

The National Green Tribunal’s case came to an end earlier this year with an order to install air quality monitoring stations and filtration plants for water with a suggestion on several pollution abatement measures.

The final report submitted by the core committee before the closure order by the NGT has clearly called for a moratorium on expansion of coal and other industrial activities in the region until the problem of pollution is under control. 

The committee further asked for the implementation of the comprehensive environmental pollution index (CEPI) in the region. Singrauli has an action plan in place to control and manage pollution. However, the locals claim it has never seen light.

Notably, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has declared Singrauli as a critically polluted area in 2009 but till date, there is no information in public domain on the air pollution levels nor are the citizens aware of any safety measures that are to be taken. More than 249 villages have been declared affected by pollution in the region. 

Sonbadhra is part of the Singrauli region bordering Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and was declared critically polluted in 2009. A moratorium was passed on further expansion in the region which was subsequently lifted in 2011. The region generated 22GW of coal-fired energy for the country every day, close to 15% of India’s energy needs.

During 2009-10, the CPCB in collaboration with IIT-D, had carried out a comprehensive environmental assessment of 88 industrial clusters and rated them on the concept of Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI).

The evaluated CEPI scores reflect the environmental quality of these industrial clusters and also served as a yardstick to assess the progress achieved in the implementation of action plans. Out of the 88 clusters, 43 critically polluted areas (CPAs) in 16 states with a CEPI score of 70 and above were identified as seriously polluted areas (SPAs).

India, today, has a problem of massive air pollution spread across the country, the draft National Clean Air Action Plan (NCAP) formulated by the Ministry does not take into account the critically polluted regions spread across the country.

Most of the CEPI regions in central India are dominated by coal powered plants that are yet to install the necessary emission control infrastructure that limits their contribution to the growing pollution levels.

The Ministry in 2015 notified new emission control norms for coal power plants with effect from December 7, 2017, which will mean retrofitting and upgrading the existing plants and ensuring that the new build complies, however, with no progress made on that front, the ministry has now asked for an extended deadline of 2022.

Thermal Power Plants are one of the biggest polluters in India and in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, more than 1,15,000 persons  die prematurely every year from their deadly emissions and unregulated use of coal remains one of the biggest threats to air quality in the National Capital Region, reports say. 

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