TERI will monitor Alibaug site to study impact of toxic substances

Apart from the oil contamination, the larger concern after the MSC Chitra oil spill is the mixing of other toxic substances such as pesticides with sea water.

The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), which carried out the bioremediation process by using the ‘oilzapper' technology at the Awas beach at Alibaug, will now monitor its site there to understand the impact of the toxic chemicals mixed with oil.

“We will see how these toxic substances impact the oilzapper microbes and bacteria. Within a week, we should be able to know how this technology is working,” Banwari Lal, Director, TERI, told The Hindu here on Saturday on the sidelines of a press meet.

The oilzapper technology works effectively to clear the oil, but the presence of a mix of other toxic substances renders the situation complex. Though TERI has extensive experience in clearing oil spills, it is unsure how the microbes will react to other chemical toxic substances.

After using this technology on the Awas beach in Alibaug, TERI plans to carry out a similar process on the beach at Navy Nagar. “We have not yet approached the Navy. We will request the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board [MPCB] to help us in this.

“The oilzapper technology cannot be used in the mangroves, which have been the worst affected. We do not have the expertise in dealing with mangroves. The experts in that field have suggested that we leave the mangroves untouched for a natural flushing-out process,” Dr. Lal said.

“The other big challenge is cleaning up the rocky areas on the beaches. That will be quite a task because even natural degradation won't take place on a rocky surface,” he pointed out. However, while suggesting that the oil be mopped out from the rocks with the help of cotton waste, which can then be treated with the help of bioremediation, he observed that the implementation of the process looked difficult. “Rocky beaches will take a very long time to recover,” he said.

This means the sedentary marine life, which survives in the rock crevices, is also set to suffer for quite a long time.

Meanwhile, TERI has also surveyed around eight to nine locations along with the MPCB officials to see whether bioremediation process can be applied anywhere else as well. Over 5 kg of microbes can clean 1 tonne of oil-contaminated sand or soil.

Cost-effective

This method is cost-effective and safe; the cost of producing 1 kg of microbes is Rs. 150-170. This clean-up is TERI's initiative and it has not taken funds from other authorities, according to Dr. Lal. TERI is implementing this with Indian Oil Corporation Limited.

“But there are certain challenges as well. A few days after the oil reaches the coast, tar balls are formed, and as it is difficult for microbes to work on tar balls, they have to be broken manually. All measures to contain the oil should be taken soon after the spill as delay causes many problems,” said Dr. Lal.

More manpower needed

TERI will also require a lot of manpower to implement this process. On Friday, many National Cadet Corps (NCC) cadets volunteered for the work at Alibaug. Sanctuary Asia too sent volunteers.

Many college students and NCC cadets have been working under severe conditions to manually clean up the affected beach line.

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