Delhi’s three landfills — Bhalswa, Okhla and Ghazipur — have cost more than €The national capital has so far suffered 450 crores in environmental destruction, according to a study by a team of experts submitted to the National Green Tribunal in January, and no noticeable progress has been made in reducing the millions of tons of waste in these landfills last year.
The study, conducted by experts from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and IIT-Delhi, assessed the damage from Bhalswa as valuable €155.9 crore caused Okhla ecological damage amounting to €151.1 crore and Ghazipur has resulted in environmental damage of €142.5 million. Experts took into account factors such as leachate and landfill pollution over time, and violations of waste management regulations to calculate environmental damage.
The Bhalswa landfill became operational in 1994 and has accumulated 8 million tonnes of contaminated land, with the landfill capacity being exhausted in 2006. The Okhla landfill was put into operation in 1994 and contains 6 million tons of old waste, with the landfill capacity being exhausted in 2010. The Ghazipur site is the oldest in Delhi and was put into operation in 1984 and has already accumulated 14 million tons of old waste. In 2019, the three municipal bodies began conducting bio-mining and bio-remediation by order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT Order). However, as new landfills continue to be dumped, the pace of disposal of legacy inert waste has remained slow.
Seepage water contaminates the groundwater
“All three sites reported high levels of chemical oxygen demand (COD) and iron (Fe) in groundwater, which may be due to landfill leachate. Chlorides, total dissolved solids (TDS), total soluble solids (TSS) and turbidity were reported in the body of surface water (Lake Bhalswa) located within a 0-1km radius of the Bhalswa site, possibly due to leachate from the landfill is due. ‘ the committee had said in its groundwater and water analysis.
Leachate has been found to reach as far as 3 to 5 kilometers from Ghazipur, with high COD levels also being reported at Lake Sanjay, the report said.
COD is a measure of the amount of oxygen that can be consumed by reactions in a measured solution. The most common application of COD is to quantify the amount of oxidizable pollutants in surface water (lakes and rivers) or wastewater.
“Even a small amount of landfill leachate and highly concentrated heavy metals can contaminate large amounts of surface and groundwater, making it unfit for consumption. These leaches and heavy metals can eventually enter the food chain and adversely affect natural and human resources in the long term,” the study said.
Air that carries pollutants everywhere
These landfills are also a major source of air pollution as pollutants travel up to 5 kilometers from these locations, aided by strong winds. Even if the landfill isn’t burning, these landfills are a constant source of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen and sulfur oxides, toxic chemicals, furans, dioxins and unburned hydrocarbons, and most importantly, methane, which is said to be 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, to put it mildly to absorb the sun’s rays.
People near these dumps breathe the worst air in the city, experts say.
While the expert panel formed by the NGT could not find a direct link between air pollution within a 5km radius of the landfill and the activities taking place there, these landfill fires are often seen as having a direct impact on air quality, according to air quality monitoring stations.
Following Tuesday’s outbreak of the Bhalswa landfill fire, hourly concentrations of PM 2.5 and PM 10 rose to almost 9 to 10 times the levels in the early hours of Wednesday at Jahangirpuri Air Quality Monitoring Station, the closest station to the site and site national safety limits less than 5 km from the landfill.
Official data shows that the air quality monitoring stations closest to these dumps are also on the list of 13 pollution hotspots in Delhi. Jahangirpuri station is closest to Bhalswa, Anand Vihar station is close to Ghazipur, Phase II Okhla station is close to Okhla landfill – and all three sites are on the list of pollution hotspots published by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee.
Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, research and advocacy at the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), said even when these landfills aren’t burning, they are releasing pollutants into AI. “The data from these air quality monitoring stations is evident and underscores the fact that waste management is an important step in tackling air pollution,” she said.
Richa Singh, program officer for the Waste Management Programme, CSE, said it would be inaccurate to call the three sites “landfills” as they did not have a proper leachate management system or gas extraction system, adding that the three sites are “landfills “ were built without adequate planning and are now constantly polluting the environment.
“These big fire events are recorded, but these landfills burn most of the year, with smaller fires or smoke erupting from one corner or another, and this process of mixed waste catching fire releases dioxins and furans, which are carcinogens . along with polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which are also carcinogenic. There are long-term health effects, including respiratory problems, for those who regularly breathe such air near the landfills,” she said.
Dipankar Saha, former head of the CPCB’s air laboratory, said landfills are much warmer because they emit a large number of greenhouse gases, including CO2 and methane. “Of course, there is a lot of activity going on at a landfill, including the release of dioxins and furans, but the release of greenhouse gases means their impact is not limited to the neighborhood or the city but is a nationwide problem,” he said, adding that long-term planning is required to phase out these landfills.