Air samples taken from locations around the municipal waste incinerator in Sukhdev Vihar in South Delhi have revealed fine particulate pollution to be at life-threatening levels and the presence of toxic metals such as lead. The samples were taken by the Chennai-based Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) as part of the citizens monitoring programme initiated by the area residents who claim to be experiencing several health problems since the plant became operational.

The two samples lifted from the area in March this year showed fine particulate pollution of 2.5 micrometers and less. “We had placed a ‘mini-wall sampler’ which took ambient air samples for a period of 24 hours. All the particulate matter present was captured into a filter which represented the capacity of a human lung,” said GAIA India Coordinator Dharmesh Shah. “The particulate matter was 2.5 micrometers and can pass through the nose barriers. It is very dangerous to inhale,” he added.

The residents also pointed to a series of stack monitoring reports conducted by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) between February 2012 and March 2013 and found at least five incidents of excess emissions from the plant which corroborate with the findings of the air samples.

Detailing the efforts made by the area residents to draw attention to the harmful effects of the incinerator, Ishwar Nagar resident Anant Trivedi said that several studies have already found Delhi’s air to be highly polluted due to vehicular pollution. “What is the logic behind locating a highly polluting facility like an incinerator in the middle of the city? There has been a significant increase in the respiratory illnesses among the residents,” he claimed.

Vimal Monga, a Sukhdev Vihar resident, has also found high levels of lead in the ash sample collected by him following an accident that took place in December 2012 in which large amount of fly ash from the plant chimney rained on the residential areas.

“This means that the plant operator is responsible for contaminating the entire neighbourhood and should be made to remediate the impacted area at his own cost. The government needs to enforce the ‘polluter pays’ principle,” said Dr. U.C Bahri, a scientist and another resident of Sukhdev Vihar.

Residents say the lead emissions also hint that there are other more toxic substances being emitted by the plant but these are not tested by the authorities and that the plant operator does not have any technology in place to separate mixed waste, especially PVC, from waste stream as laid down in its contract with the civic body.

The Municipal Solid Waste Rules-2000 prohibits the burning of PVC as it produces dioxins and furans, which are highly toxic chemicals.

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