Each day, more than 500 million liters of wastewater from industrial sources are dumped directly into Ganga. In many places, this wastewater entering the rivers is completely raw, completely untreated.
This industrial waste is making the Ganga dangerous for use as as source of drinking or bathing, with dangerous chemicals and heavy metals filling her waters at levels far exceeding any sort of safe or acceptable levels. For example, with expanding industrial growth, the city of Kanpur has not been able to cope with its industrial pollution. Kanpur is now listed as the most polluted city along Ganga, and each day the city produces nine million liters of industrial waste, mostly consisting of wastewater from tanneries, much of which is dumpled illegally directly into Ganga without treatment.
In the sections below we have highlighted some of the challenges and solutions to industrial waste management that have been provided from the thoughtful insights of numerous GAP experts, scientists and members.
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1. Industrial Pollution
764 industries in the main stream of the Ganga, including Kali and Ramganga, consume 1123 MLD water and discharge 500MLD waste water.
2. Majority UP’s Waste:
90% of this industrial pollution is along the river’s Uttar Pradesh stretch.
1. See a special article by CSE on UP’s Industrial Pollution
3. Sector-Specific Pollution
Sugar, pulp, paper and distillery industries are responsible for 70% of the pollution. See the chart of sector specific pollution.
4. Hazhardous Toxins from Tanneries
Tanneries are responsible for the most harmful type of toxins and when concentrated in clusters in a small area like Unnao, where more than 790 times the accepted standard of chromium is dumped into the river (nearly 1,125 tons) entire farms burn up. More details about the issues with chromium in point 7.
5. Lack of Affordable and Appropriate Technology
Without adequate and affordable treatment technologies, small-scale industries continue to pollute the River Ganga with over a billion litres of toxic chemicals.
Most STPs built under the Ganga Action Plan don’t effectively treat the heavy metal toxins and thus the even treated waters released into the river remain toxic.
6. Major Human Health Crisis
Aggravating toxic contamination of the river is the lack of the dilution capacity and thus pollution becomes particularly toxic and hazardous. To read more about the Repercussions, see below.
7. Heavy Metals Found in the River Ganga
Here are some heavy metals found in the River Ganga:
- The tannery industry mushrooming in North India has converted the Ganga River into a dumping ground.
- Many of tanning industry discharges different types of waste into the environment, primarily in the form of liquid effluents containing both organic matters and dangerous toxic chemicals, such as chromium, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, nickel, sulphide ammonium and other salts, chemical dyes, sulfuric acid and methane.
- As per one estimate, about 80-90% of the tanneries use chromium as a tanning agent. Of this, the hides take up only 50-70%, leaving the rest to be discharged as industrial waste. Pollution becomes acute when tanneries are concentrated in clusters in a small area like Kanpur, as mentioned above.
- Monitoring of Ganga from Rishikesh to Varanasi indicated that the stretch from Kannauj to Kanpur to Varanasi is the most polluted stretch of Ganga, and analysis of upstream and downstream water and sediment revealed a ten-fold increase in chromium levels.
- The presence of arsenic in and around groundwater sources has been detected in all five states that the Ganga flows through.
- In Bihar alone, this includes all the towns situated along the banks of the Ganga as well as around 1,590 villages spread over the state’s thirteen districts in the Ganga Basin.
- The overall concentration of heavy metals in Ganga showed a trend in high levels of zinc, followed by nickel, then chromium, copper, and cadmium.
- Concentrations of all heavy metals were higher downstream than upstream, especially in sampling stations at Varanasi.
- A study by the Environmental Biology Laboratory, Department of Zoology, Patna University found the presence of trace amounts of mercury in the Ganga River at Varanasi.
- Although the range found is within the maximum permissible standard prescribed for drinking water by the World Health Organization, its presence in the river system is worrisome.
8. Unenforced Laws
According to the Water (Prevention and Control) Act, those that repeatedly pollute our aquifers should be punished with sizable fines and up to seven years of jail.
Other laws, including the Human Rights Act, the Forest Act, the Biodiversity Act and the Environmental Protection Act, as they relate to the River Ganga, are similarly being violated and unenforced on a daily basis.
9. Toxic Farm Runoff
The run-off from chemical pesticides and fertilizers into aquifers, including the Ganga, is detrimental to human health and to an already endangered ecosystem.
1. Treatment Technology
Industrial units that are discharging their treated and untreated effluent into Ganga should be directed to adopt (zero-discharge) technologies.
Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETP) must be mandatory for all industries if they are not effectively treating their wastewater.
2. Reuse Treated Effluent
All industries should recycle and reuse their treated effluent to the maximum extent possible for meeting their industrial process water and irrigation requirements.
3. Improved Water Quality Monitoring
The parameters for which the river water quality is monitored are often times dissolved oxygen (DO) and biological oxygen demand (BOD), which is inadequate as an index to total pollution in the river, as it only accounts for decaying organic matter. It serves as a poor indicator of the presence and effects of persistent toxins, including metals which are not biodegradable.
4. Innovative Approaches to Monitoring
Invariably, the sewage waste and industrial effluents are mixed. However, the chemical make-up of toxins and pollutants are often very different and thus require different treatment methods.
- Carefully analyze the components of the wastewater created from different types of industries and reduce toxic material in the process to effectively treat and monitor discharge.
- Employ alternatives that can use sludge and byproducts as assets and profits for the company rather than just excess waste.
- Simply moving an industry from the flood plain of the river does not mean that effective treatment of the effluent is less necessary. Industrial waste ineffectively disposed can contaminate ground water tables which again are vital to the river’s eco-system and to the health of the community.
5. Get the People Involved in a Transparent System
- Regular and consistent water quality monitoring and dissemination of this information must be made available to the public consistently.
- Public and social participation in the process to monitor the policies and laws created need to be encouraged and invited.
- Incentives, fair warning, capacity building and training for industries to use eco-friendly technologies that reduce toxic discharge must be planned and organized.
Open dialogue and active participation of the Industries Associations are key to sustainable change and ownership in making the River Ganga clean.
6. Simultaneously, open dialogue to happen with industries to get them involved in an owner driven process to keep their River Ganga clean.
1. Human Health Crisis
People living alongside parts of the Ganga are among the most prone to contracting certain cancers than those individuals residing anywhere else in the world, reports the National Cancer Registry Programme (NCRP) under the Indian Council of Medical Research.
Chromium is fifteen times more toxic than domestic sewage and causes farms that are irrigated by these waters to burn up.
This hazardous waste includes hydrochloric acid, mercury and other heavy metals, bleaches,dyes, pesticides, and highly toxic compounds that accumulate in animal and human tissue, leading to serious health complications, such as kidney failure, brain damage, lung cancer and spontaneous abortions, as well as result in undetected genetic mutations and deformities in future generations.
Furthermore, these toxins have contaminated the groundwater as well as crops, as farmers have no choice but to use these waters to irrigate their crops.
2. Biodiversity Lost
All these pollutants entering Ganga and her tributaries are wreaking havoc on their natural ecosystems. In many places along Ganga’s stretches, fish and aquatic creatures are dying. In one stretch of the Yamuna, a tributary of the Ganga, practically no aquatic life has been able to survive for the last decade.
Industrial units may be asked to submit their action plan to achieve zero discharge. The industrial units may be asked to submit their action plan to achieve zero discharge within a maximum period of one year and State Pollution Control Boards may be asked not to renew their consents after one year till they achieve zero discharge.
2. Corporate and industrial violators must be warned and punished, and if necessary, shut down
There are no gray areas where the repeated poisoning of the River Ganga and its population are concerned. The practice is illegal and punishable by sizable fines and imprisonment, according to the Water (Prevention and Control) Act of 1974 and other applicable laws and judgements.
Companies and industries must follow the guidelines set by the state, and proper enforcement of these guidelines must be made by the government and the public.
3. Information availability
Legal cases, proceedings and results passed to date should be consolidated and compiled into one centralized location, available to all.
4. Implementation of environmental rights act
A comprehensive National Ganga Rights Act must be implemented. Click here for more information.
5. Special Ganga Police Force
A Special Ganga Police Force should be immediately empowered to enforce the law through investigations, fines, detention and other actions against repeat corporate and industrial offenders.
6. Restoring 51% Ecological Flow
According to the CPCB, so much water is being extracted from the Ganga that “in absence of adequate flow, unabated discharge of treated sewage, even with 100% treatment… cannot bring the river water quality to bathing level in lean season flow.”
1 Sharma, R. “Yamuna becomes the river of death.” CNN-IBN. 9 May 2011. Click here to read this article.
2 “Note on discharge of industrial effluents into the Ganga.” Center Education and Sciences, GoI. 2006.