Industrial pollution is responsible, to a large extent, for the alarming levels air, water and soil pollution in India. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that only air pollution accounts for around 2% of all heart and lung diseases, for about 5% of all lung cancers, and for about 1% of all chest infections.
Large quantities of industrial waste is generated mainly in iron and steel, oil, leather, food processing, distilleries, paper, sugar, chemical, soda, paint, petroleum, pesticide and fertiliser industries. According to environmental experts, highly polluting elements like mercury are getting increasingly mixed with the environment due to mismanagement of industrial waste.
One of the most polluting industries - the leather tanning industry, uses large quantities of chemicals which are harmful for the environment. Most developed nations have limited the penetration of their own leather industries due to its high pollution quotient. It is the norm for these developed economies to import most of their leather goods from developing nations. As the leather industry is a highly labour intensive industry with strong export linkages, the developing economies continue with their polluting leather industries to sustain their economic growth.
Pollution in leather industry
The leather industry is divided in two sectors - namely leather processing or tanning and the leather product industry. The leather processing industry prepares finished leather from the raw hides and skins whereas the leather product industry is involved in the manufacturing of leather products.
Arijit Chakrabarti, Superintendent, Boot and Shoe Department, Government College of Engineering and Leather Technology, informed BE, “The leather product industry is not as polluting as the leather processing industry. In its various stages of operations, effluents are emanated in liquid and solid forms. In the tanning industry, solid wastage is discharged after two different processes. One is after the raw hides are treated with lime and sodium sulphite and the other is after tanning the hides. We are using the solid wastage in fertilisers and in fisheries as they are the lesser polluting components. Now, new technologies are being developed to use enzymes and various other bio-technological products as substitutes for the presently used corrosive chemicals like sodium sulphite. On the other hand, liquid effluent is emanated mostly in post tanning operations. Effluent treatment plants are established at every tanning industry to restrict liquid pollutants from coming out directly into the environment. By this technology, the effluent gets processed and purified to a certain level that can be safely released to the surface water. Also, the tanning industry is consciously trying to consume lesser water to restrict the amount of liquid effluent getting discharged. This model has been implemented in south India.”
Governmental policy in this regard has been revamped but needs better implementation and industry compliance. He added, “Other than leather scraps in irregular shapes and dust, the leather product industry does not generate any major pollutant. The solid wastage only occupies space. But a new technology which is in its final stages can recycle this wastage to make leather sheets as reinforcement or mother material for the industry. Also, open air burning in the tanning industry to produce fertilisers is a major reason for air pollution everywhere. West Bengal Pollution Control Board has already banned these kinds of activities but has failed to give a fresh new model as an alternative.”
Agriculture itself may not pollute the environment but some allied practices can always contaminate the earth and the environment. Worldwide, over usage of chemical fertilisers and unscientific burning of extra crops are the two major reasons of soil, air and water pollution.
Excessive fertilisers can change the pH level in soil and also pollute different water sources. Cadmium, fluoride and uranium are regularly found in the minerals from which fertilisers are manufactured. Dangerous metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium, and nickel are found in chemical fertilisers. When chemicals from pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers make their way into groundwater, they eventually end up in potable water. Drinking or even swimming in water contaminated with dangerous chemical particles can cause rashes, stomach and liver problems, respiratory illnesses and neurological effects. Drinking water with high levels of nitrates can lead to the fatal ‘blue baby syndrome’. Also, high arsenic level in groundwater and chemical fertilisers causes pollution in agriculture.Neelanjan Dutta, currently working as Assistant Professor, NIT Sikkim and pursuing his Ph.D from the Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Shibpur, reported BE, “High level of arsenic present in groundwater gets absorbed by paddy plants. Also, organic fertilizers having lower level of arsenic are sometimes used in fields. Continuous consumption of these crops can cause serious skin diseases and may cause to death. In the West Bengal, nine districts named Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Kolkata, Howrah, Hooghly, Burdwan are affected by Arsenic problem. Some projects are being undertaken by the government to deal with this jointly with IIT Kharagpur, IIEST Shibpur and Jadavpur University. But these are limited to drinking water and not extended to treating water used for each and every purpose.”
Prevention of Agricultural pollution
Prevention of pollution cannot ever be a monolithic exercise. Various stakeholders including the government, industry players and civil society needs to conjoin its efforts to combat the ticking environmental bomb. India is among the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2018, plummeting 36 places from 141 in 2016, according to a biennial report by Yale and Columbia Universities along with the World Economic Forum. According to experts, its overall low ranking - 177 among 180 countries - can be allied to its poor performance in the environmental health policy and deaths due to air pollution categories.
In such an alarming situation, governmental authorities must regulate polluting industries and curb polluting agricultural practices.