Bhopal, August 22 (Pervez Bari)
Cheer up. There is some good news for the survivors of Bhopal gas tragedy, the world's worst industrial disaster, including the NGOs working for them and the Madhya Pradesh Government as far as disposing off the toxic waste lying in the erstwhile killer Union Carbide pesticide plant, which has become an enigma for one and all, is concerned.
The good news is that a technology known as Plasma Thermal Destruction Recovery (PTDR), of a company christened as PEAT International, is available in India to clean up the Bhopal Union Carbide plant's toxic waste effectively and cleanly at site itself without having to transport the hazardous material to any far off place for its disposal. It can be disposed off at the site within the premises of the Union Carbide factory at Bhopal without creating any collateral damage to the environment and / or the people living in the surrounding areas of the facility, claims Peat International.
According to Pradeep Mathur, CEO India for PEAT International India, if the said technology is adopted for the treatment of this waste, then the problem will be completely resolved, requiring no further treatment and without any requirement of land filling, the company claims. The facility once constructed will be available for treating other wastes even after the treatment of the waste is completed.
Talking to this correspondent Mr. Mathur said the cost of the treatment is also very nominal. For about 350 metric tonnes (MT) toxic waste, PTDR-100 unit would suffice and the cost may come around to Rs. 50 to 60 million only. It is interesting to note here that the Union Government has earmarked Rs. 3000 millions for the 350 MT toxic waste kept in the factory godown. Thus, this cost amount of Rs. 50 to 60 million would be just 1.5 per cent of the sanctioned amount Rs. 3000 millions which is dam cheap.
It would be better in the interests of the survivors and the Madhya Pradesh Government itself if it contacts the Peat International India officials as soon as possible and discuss the whole issue of toxic waste disposal immediately without any delay. After taking overall view of the matter the state Government must weigh the options available to it so far with the huge cost involved. It should initiate steps for it on priority basis at the first go looking at the very cheap cost involved to solve the issue which has been hanging on fire for over last 25 years.
PEAT International (PEAT), which is headquartered in Northbrook, Illinois, its chairman being Mr. Joseph Rosin, is a waste-to-resources company specializing in the deployment of its proprietary PTDR technology for the treatment and recycling of a wide range of waste feed-stocks, including: industrial, universal and medical waste.
According to Mr. Mathur the novel and patented PTDR technology uses heat generated by plasma torches in an oxygen starved (pyrolysis) environment to first pull apart (dissociate) the molecules that make-up the organic portions of the waste, then, depending on the composition of the waste stream, a controlled (stoichiometric) amount of oxygen is added to reform the dissociated elements of the waste into a synthesis gas (Syngas), consisting mainly of Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Hydrogen (H2). The Syngas can then be used in a variety of ways: as a fuel for thermal or electricity production or as a feedstock for the production of liquid fuels (i.e. ethanol).
PEAT's PTDR 100, a 60 kilograms-an-hour system, would be ideal for the 350 MT toxic waste. The PTDR 100 is an ideal, turn-key solution for treating this kind of waste on-site without undertaking the danger of moving this dangerous and volatile waste to a treatment facility. A PTDR 100 unit costs approx. Rs. 40 millions as initial Capital Cost. The treatment Cost would be about Rs. 20 per kg. The PTDR 100 unit takes only about 100 sq. metre of space and can be stalled in 6 months time. Operating at 60 kg / hr PTDR-100 can finish the 350 MT in about 10 months time from the start of the toxic waste treatment, Mathur revealed.
He claimed that the PTDR technology has received numerous regulatory approvals throughout the globe, including: Taiwan Environment Protection Agency; Taiwan Ministry of Education; Kaohsiung Department of Environment Protection; Virginia Department of Environment Quality; Alabama Department of Environmental Management; City of Huntsville Natural Resources Division; San Diego Air Pollution Control District; Sacramento Air Pollution Control District; Indiana Department of Environment Management; Michigan Department of Environment Quality; California Department of Public Health and Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.
It may be mentioned here that the ghost of disposing off the toxic waste is haunting the Madhya Pradesh Government, the survivors of the gas tragedy and the NGOs working for them alike.
The Government is concerned only about the 350 MT stocked in the godown of the factory. While the survivors and the NGOs are very much perturbed over the enormous quantity of the waste amounting to 18,000 to 25,000 MT or may be even more spread in the campus of the factory and in the solar evaporation ponds which has leeched into the soil and contaminated drinking water reserves of the people living in the vicinity of the factory. There is an urgent need to detoxify the soil in order to stop contamination of water.
The point of contention is how to dispose off this toxic waste without harming the environment and the populace together with carrying it this highly poisonous material safely to any far off disposal site ruling out possibility of any mishap. The huge cost involved to carry out this operation is another overriding factor. If the enormous quantity of the waste amounting to 18,000 to 25,000 MT spread in the campus of the factory and in the solar evaporation ponds is taken up then the cost would be mind boggling.
If the survivors and the NGOs stand is taken about the enormous amount of toxic waste being 18,000 to 25,000 MT or more then PTDR 100 plant would not be suitable. At PEAT International there are two larger plants - the PTDR 500 / which can treat 9 tons per day, and the PTDR 1000 / which can treat 30 tons per day. A PTDR 500 would require 2,000 working days - whereas the PTDR 1000 would require 600 days. The type of waste is not an issue - because all PTDR units can handle all types of poisonous materials.
A PTDR 500 - the Capital Cost is approx. Rs. 250 millions and it requires about 750 sq. metre of space. The PTDR 1000 - the Capital Cost is approx. Rs. 800 millions and it requires about 2,850 sq. metre of space. Depending upon the type of waste - the above units would also generate surplus Electricity for supply to the grid.
Meanwhile, it may be pointed out here that the judiciary is also seized of the matter of toxic waste disposal. The Madhya Pradesh High Court adopted a strict view of the toxic waste lying at the defunct Union Carbide factory, on August 17 again directed Dow Chemicals to present all the documents pertaining to the merger of the two companies. The court set September 30 as the deadline for submitting the documents and posted the next hearing for October 26.
An NGO Gas Kand Trasdi Morcha had filed a PIL before the Jabalpur High Court, seeking the fixing of responsibility for the disposal of the toxic waste. The double bench of the High Court comprising Justice Arun Mishra and Sushma Srivastava repeated the direction issued at the last hearing, ordering Dow Chemicals to present the merger agreement and documents pertaining to properties before the court by September 30. Though, the Union Carbide owned the factory at the time of the Gas Tragedy, Dow Chemical later took over the pesticide manufacturing giant.
It may be recalled here that on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984, 40 MT of poisonous Methyl Iso-cyanate spewed out from Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal killing thousands of people and maiming nearly half a million others. The fall out of the disaster has been that people who inhaled the gas have been dying and death over the years has crossed 25,000 mark and is still counting.