“Pollution from Leather Industries As We Know and Pollution From Leather Industries We Do Not Know: Urgent Need for a Comprehensive Investigation at Kanpur” by EcoFriends
Background: Myths and Realities of Ganga Action Plan
As is known under Ganga Action Plan Phase I, facilities have been created to intercept, divert and treat 160 mld (million litres per day) of sewage and 9 mld of tannery effluents in Kanpur. Three treatment plants have been set up (5 mld Sewage Treatment plant, STP, 36 mld Combined Effluent Treatment Plant, CETP, and 130 mld STP) at Kanpur. The post treated water is being utilized either for irrigation of farmlands in the Jajmau region of Kanpur or is discharged into the river Ganga.
At Jajmau, Kanpur, the post treated sewage irrigation water being supplied to the farmland has led to widespread contamination of food chains, sharp decline in productivity of food crops, soil, vegetables, livestock and even milk; contamination of underground water meant for drinking purposes with attendant grave public health implications.
Also, the post-treated sewage water has been causing damage to the river ecology and peoples’ health: the aquatic life in the river is being threatened (frequent fish kills are often reported) and the river water quality is being degraded.
Eco- Friends – IIT Kanpur Tests
It was to investigate these serious issues that Eco- friends commissioned the Facility for Ecological and Analytical Testing, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur to conduct extensive tests to determine hazardous toxicants in the following:
1. raw tannery effluents;
2. raw Kanpur city sewage;
3. post treated water (mix of tannery effluents and Kanpur city sewage) used either for irrigation or routed to river Ganga and
4. post treated tannery effluents being generated from the Combined Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) at Unnao.
The samples were collected on September 9, 2002 and the results were received on September 20, 2002.
New Facts of Pollution from Leather Tanneries
An analysis of the test results (See Appendix I) has brought out some starting facts. Alarming levels of Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury, Nickel and Chrome VI in the above mentioned samples have been found. These are clear pointers to the fact that the leather manufactures at Kanpur and Unnao are using the same in their production cycle.
Till date, it was assumed that the only hazardous chemical being discharged by the leather industries was chromium, a known carcinogen. Our new findings have discovered even more lethal toxicants in their waste streams and the leather industries need to account for the same.
According to the World Health Organisation, these heavy metals have a lethal impact on public health when they enter the food/ water chain. Cadmium is a potent kidney toxicant and Mercury is a potent neurological toxicant. Chromium VI is a known human carcinogen. Other metals too are potent sources of renal, neurological, skin diseases and blue baby syndrome affecting infants. At Jajmau, Kanpur, These heavy metals have contaminated the underground water streams and are having a devastating impact on environment and public health (see Appendix II).
A summary of Eco Friends- IIT Kanpur, Test results is presented below:
1. Alarmingly high levels of Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury, Nickel and Chrome VI have been found in the raw tannery waste water being generated at Kanpur and Unnao Industrial area.
2. Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury, Nickel and Chrome VI have also been found in raw Kanpur city sewage reaching the Main Pumping Station in Jajmau. This also shows that the domestic sewage line is also being fed with toxic industrial effluents.
3. The above toxicants are also present in the Post Treated Sewage Irrigation Water channel used for farmland irrigation in the Jajmau area.
4. Alarmingly high levels of Arsenic, Mercury, Nickel and Chrome VI have been found in the post-treated tannery effluents at CETP Unnao. The CETP at Unnao caters exclusively to the effluents from the big tanneries and has no inflow of domestic sewage, pointing to the fact that the tanneries are in fact responsible for the presence of these toxicants. This is especially shocking since all concerned is projecting the CETP at Unnao, a private enterprise, is being projected as a model project and a success story in the collection and treatment of tannery effluents by all concerned.
How many Treatment Plants would be enough to stop Pollution from Tanneries?
Under the Ganga Action Plan the treatment process sought to reduce the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and the Total Suspended and Dissolved Solids in the industrial waste streams.
At Kanpur, the leather tanneries were identified as the main culprit of Ganga pollution. Accordingly, Primary Effluent Treatment Plant (PETP) was made mandatory in the leather tanneries
Further, facilities (tannery waste conveyance system and 36 mld CETP) were created to treat the highly polluting tannery effluents. CETP was designed to treat chrome free tannery effluents. The tannery owners were supposed to tap chromium at source, which they never did. As a result, the tannery waste stream reaching the CETP contained chromium, thereby jeopardizing the functioning of the CETP and creating widespread environmental and public health impacts.
Subsequently, the priority of the pollution control agencies shifted to installing the Chromium Recovery Plants (CRP) in the tanneries at Kanpur. Out of 225 odd tanneries, which are supposed to have installed CRP, only about 40 odd tanneries actually have done so. All concerned pollution control agencies have been battling to get the CRP installed since March 2000 without success.
Till date, chromium was the only hazardous pollutant (heavy metal) identified by the pollution control agencies in the tannery waste streams. With the identification of new hazardous pollutants as found in the Eco Friends – IIT Kanpur report, the existing and future threats to environment and public health have multiplied manifold.
The existing pollution control mechanisms do not address these new extremely hazardous threats that the tanneries have been posing to the environment/public health at Kanpur. With the establishment of the Chromium recovery plants alone, the problem of pollution would not disappear. There is also a need to now install an Arsenic Recovery Plant, a Cadmium Recovery Plant, a Mercury Recovery Plant and so on. Also, the number/ kinds of treatment plants required to comprehensively stop the pollution being spread by the tanneries at Kanpur would in itself be a hazardous guess.
Need for an Integrated Pollution Control Approach at Kanpur
The fact that the problem of tackling tannery pollution now goes beyond installing chrome recovery plants is in itself a most disconcerting fact. However, the same needs to be faced squarely by the pollution control authorities. Admittedly, this is a difficult task but an important one. At the moment, apparently the approach of the pollution control authorities seems to be partial and ad-hoc.
There is an urgent need to first investigate comprehensively the chemicals being used by the tanneries at Kanpur at any/every stage of their production cycle. It is only when we know these facts and list out all the pollutants being used, can we take the second step of controlling/regulating them.
The more important issue relates to the accountability of the concerned tanneries themselves. For how long does the government propose to keep investing time and money to clean up their mess?
There ought to be shift in the approach of the government agencies too. It seems logical for the government not to get involved in the actual treatment process, as it is the primary duty of the concerned tanneries to stop the use of hazardous chemicals in the production cycle and shift to cleaner options. Why should the tanneries continue to be subsidized at the cost of the public exchequer? In whatever ways possible, the ‘polluter must pay’ principle should be applied to all polluting tanneries.
Issue of Effective and Verifiable/Transparent Monitoring of Tanneries
It has often been reported that even when the tanneries concerned have installed the Primary Effluent Treatment Plants and Chrome Recovery Plants (only 40 odd out of a list of 225), the same are not being used regularly. It has often been noticed that the tanneries dump the pollution related concerns in favour of raising their profit margins. Installing, operating and maintaining the Primary Effluent Treatment Plants and Chrome Recovery Plants add to the production costs hence they exist only in name.
Looking at the dismal picture of pollution identification and control at Kanpur, it is pertinent that the pollution control authorities devise an effective and verifiable monitoring mechanism, which does not become hostage to manipulation and petty corruption. Considerable time, energy and imagination need to be applied to devise an open and transparent system of monitoring which achieves its basic goals on a continuous basis. Until such a system is in place, controlling the pollution at Ganga shall remain a distant dream.
Such an effective and transparent system needs to be evolved urgently in association with grass root level organizations, which are working on the issue and know fully the weaknesses of the present regime of pollution regulation and control.
In the light of the above, Eco friends demands the following:
1. The Central Pollution Control Board and the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board should carry out a comprehensive investigation of all the leather industries in Kanpur. The investigation should include all the chemicals, which are being used in the entire production cycle of the leather tanneries. The tanneries responsible for discharge of the above toxic pollutants must be held accountable by the concerned governmental agencies.
2. Sources of Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury and Nickel in the tannery waste streams need to be found out on an urgent basis.
3. Those industries, which are diverting industrial effluents directly into the domestic sewage line, should be identified and stopped immediately.
4. A thorough investigation needs to be made in the Jajmau area to determine the full nature and extent of the impact of pollution and damage to soil, food crops, underground water and its impact on public health. Full compensation should be provided to the affected population for widespread damage to crops, soil and people’s health.
5. Safe drinking water must be ensured in the Jajmau area at the earliest. Extensive health survey must be carried out urgently in the Jajmau area. In the meantime, the governmental agencies should open up sub centres and Primary Health Centers in the villages of Jajmau so that basic health facilities are made available to the people.