PAPRI SRI RAMAN
Chennai, June 7 (IANS) Environmental agencies in Tamil Nadu are demanding monitoring stations in heavily industrialised pockets after a study found air samples from the state among the most polluted in India.
The groups have urged the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to apply for central funds to set up volatile organic compounds (VOC) and sulphur gas monitoring stations in Manali, Mettur, Cuddalore, Tuticorin and other industrialised areas.
The demand came after two samples from Tamil Nadu, out of 21 air samples taken from various parts of India, were found to be among three most-polluted in a first-of-its-kind national study of toxic gases in ambient air.
The study, ‘Smoke Screen – Ambient Air Quality in India’, was released here by Magsaysay award winner V. Shantha of the Cancer Institute.
The samples were taken with the help of a ‘Bucket’ – a low-cost air sampling tool that contains a special plastic bag housed within a bucket. The bag serves as a container for the air sample, and is detached after the sample is taken and couriered to a laboratory in California.
‘The Bucket results confirm that many communities in Tamil Nadu are living in a slow-motion Bhopal. For years, the Pollution Control Board and the government have ignored complaints about nasty odours and health problems,’ said M. Nizamudeen, who works with Federation of Consumer Organisations of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry (FEDCOT), an NGO.
‘We hope that the new government will be more responsive to people’s problems and utilise the fact that they (DMK) control the environment ministry at the centre to speed up the standards setting process and strengthen enforcement,’ said Nizamudeen, referring to the DMK-led government that took office last month.
An air sample from the open garbage burning site in Perungudi, on the city’s outskirts and positioned along the much-hyped IT corridor, contained the highest number of chemicals found in any Indian sample.
As many as 27 chemicals, including carcinogenic ones, at levels 34,782 and 2,360 times higher than those considered safe for residential air by the US Environmental Protection Agency were found in this sample.
A second sample taken from near the effluent discharge point into the Cauvery river by Chemplast Sanmar’s PVC plant near the Mettur dam site, about 600 km southwest of here, also qualified among the three most-polluted samples as it contained six cancer-causing chemicals in the 17 that were detected.
From the 21 samples taken from various locations in India, the study reported the presence of 45 chemicals, including 13 carcinogens. The report is unique for India as the study analysed air samples for 67 toxic VOCs and 20 sulphur compounds in the air.
Activists said none of the chemicals found in ambient air samples in Indis were systematically monitored and no standards exist for them despite evidence that many of the reported chemicals exert severe health effects.
In September 2004, the Supreme Court instructed the Central Pollution Control Board to set standards for toxic gases. In 1999-2000, the ministry of environment and forests set aside $7.5 million for monitoring and setting standards for toxic gases. However, neither task has been done so far.