Mail Today – Ship-breaking yards pollute marine waters

(Written by Akash Vashishtha)

22 October 2014 - Hazardous waste materials from shi-breaking yards in port cities are polluting marine waters in a big way and compromising the health and safety of workers, environmental groups have claimed.

The activists claimed environmental regulations are being extensively flouted in ship-breaking yards and hazardous wastes like asbestos and toxins have become a major source of pollution in nearby seas.

A report prepared by the NGO Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment (LIFE) on the Alang Sosiya ship recycling yard in Gujarat, which is yet to be published, revealed that most of the plots have uncemented floors. Due to this, there is a very high chance of contaminating the soil with heavy metals and other toxic chemicals during the handling, recovery and storage process.

“We found a great deal of illiteracy about asbestos (a highly hazardous material) among workers and supervisors. No distinction is being made between different materials in dealing with scrap,” said the report accessed by Mail Today. “The waste materials were observed to be thrown into the sea by the workers. There is no strictness for environment and workers safety in the plots we visited,” the report said.

The open burning of scrap takes place at several places, multiplying air pollution, it added.

There is also no mechanism to ascertain whether the equipment sold at Alang market (collected from scrapped vessels) contain hazardous materials, it said.

Ritwick Dutta of LIFE said, “Despite an SC order that all pollution control boards have to ensure that all units involved in hazardous chemicals and wastes display information about such substances, the directive continues to be openly flouted. We found only blank signboards outside ship-breaking plots. Even though there is a ban on dumping any material on the beach, they are found openly and are seen burning.”

According to Patrizia Heidegger, executive director of the Brussels-based NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a huge amount of waste is piling up on Indian beaches in inter-tidal zones where the yards are situated. “We are not allowed access to the yards to collect samples. Though many firms in India tag themselves as green recyclers, the cutting and breaking of ships in a green manner does not exist. Even those into it operate without environmental clearances,” she said.