World Bank urged to stop promoting unsuitable environmental technology to Third World

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace has called on the World Bank to stop promoting expensive pollution reduction technologies in India that fail to remove persistent and toxic pollutants from industrial effluent.

Approximately 250-270 million litres of highly toxic industrial wastewater is released to the environment every day from three industrial estates in Gujarat, India, according to a Greenpeace survey despite the use of end-of-pipe trapping technologies.

Greenpeace analysed samples of treated and untreated industrial wastewater from rivers and from Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) serving three industrial estates located at Ankleshwar, Nandesari and Vapi in the Gujurat region.

The industrial estates consist of around 3,000, 300 and 2,000 industrial units respectively. The industries on the estates utilise CETPs to treat process waste streams. CETPs have been promoted in the region as a long term, end-of-pipe solution to the problems arising from contaminated wastewater disposal.

The results of the survey show that end-of- pipe pollution trapping technologies such as CETPs fail to deal with all the pollutants produced on the estates. CETPs cannot deal with pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls, hexachlorobenzene and toxic heavy metals, Greenpeace claim. By combining wastewaters from a large number of industrial units, highly complex effluents and wastes may be generated. At best, the survey claims, CETPs serve to concentrate pollutants into sludges. CETPs also fail to remove all the heavy metals from the effluent resulting in direct discharges to waterways. In short, Greenpeace says, rather than solving a problem, the use of CETPs creates another hazardous waste stream.

The areas around the industrial estates were found to be contaminated with toxic pollutants, including polychlorinated biphenyls, hexachlorobenzene and heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, chromium, copper and mercury. Analyses of groundwater from a farmer’s well also found pollutants such as trichloroethene, benzene and chlorobenzenes, indicating that the problem is not just confined to river water.

Existing Indian pollution control legislation does not demand detailed chemical characterisation of effluents. Therefore, the survey says, many components of waste streams are overlooked, including persistent organic compounds. The survey concludes that the Indian Government must introduce an overall waste treatment strategy with the goal of eliminating priority pollutants at source.

“End-of-pipe pollution control technologies such as the Common Effluent Treatment Plants promoted by the World Bank are a waste of money. They do not destroy dangerous pollutants such as heavy metals and organic poisons and are a threat to a healthy environment and to the lives of people in the neighbourhood,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, Greenpeace’s Asia Toxics Campaigner.

Greenpeace says it will highlight the findings at the upcoming negotiations of the United Nations Environmental Programme to draft a convention on regulating Persistent Organic Pollutants.

“There are no magic technologies to make pollution disappear. Landfills, CETPs and incinerators are all polluting technologies; the only solution is to invest in clean production processes that eliminate the use of toxic chemical inputs,” said Jayaraman.

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