What’s eating into the oxygen in the air?
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What’s eating into the oxygen in the air?

The sludge-filled, stagnating drains of Shahdara and Noida have become a steady source of toxic gases. But government agencies seemed clueless on the subject — let alone on how to tackle the menace!  

What’s eating into the oxygen in the air? A section of the Shahdara drain

Here’s a fact: Methane depletes the level of breathable oxygen in the air. Here’s another: The toxic gases — including ammonia, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide and methane — emanating from the open drains of Shahdara and Noida, have put the lives of more than two lakh residents at risk.

Anybody listening? Nope!

Apparently, government authorities have no immediate plans to do anything about the imminent health hazards. In fact, there have been no studies on the impact of highly contaminated, sludge-filled drains on air quality.

City Spidey reached out to several government agencies — including Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and Noida Pollution Control Board (NPCB) — on the issue, but none seemed to be specifically aware, or have a plausible solution.

Dr D Shaha, in-charge of the laboratory for air-quality monitoring, CPCB, said, “So far, we are not aware of any mechanism that can help trap the toxic gases from open stagnant drains. The only way out is a sewer treatment plant [STP].”

An official with DJB’s Chilla STP, requesting anonymity, said, “The air near Shahdara drain has a high percentage of methane and other toxic gases. However, we can’t give you the exact percentages — as I am not equipped to do that. But, undeniably, these gases are highly hazardous for human life.”

In 1998, the Union government had constituted Environment Pollution Protection Control Authority (EPPCA) at the behest of the Supreme Court. Its objective was to "protect and improve" the quality of the environment and "control environmental pollution" in the NCR. It was to also assist the apex court in various environment-related matters.

The same committee was re-constituted in 2016 under the chairmanship of Dr Bhure Lal, a retired IAS officer. City Spidey turned to him for expert opinion. “Sludge and debris, which include soil and rotten disposable remains, are the main sources of toxic gases in the air. Stagnating water, coupled with rotting sludge, is the main source of methane and hydrogen sulphide. If the situation remains unchanged, the impact on lives will be irrevocable. We need modern technology support to trap these gases.”

But he added, “That responsibility lies with the state government. They need to have mechanisms in place that will not allow the sludge to accumulate — or have it disposed in case it collects. But, unfortunately, the state refuses to adhere to our guidelines.”