Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Clear garbage mounds around to save the ground we tread

Clear garbage mounds around to save the ground we tread

When every inch of available space in the city is being filled with concrete and tar, and biological and chemical contamination is killing the soil, no one seems to be bothered about its implications on the citizens' health, says Bosky Khanna in the concluding part of the series on pollution

Bosky Khanna

The absence of earthworms is an alarming sign. It indicates that our soil is dying. The land struggles for breath as concrete, metal, poisonous waste and water cover its face.
But citizens do not seem to be concerned at all; experts too, as there are hardly any studies undertaken on soil pollution in the city.
While importance is being given to air and water pollution which have direct impact on the health of people, the threat from soil pollution remains ignored.
According to experts, no attention has been paid to soil pollution which has a direct impact on people's lives as ground water is contaminated and crops, fruits and vegetables are affected by polluted soil.
Karnataka State Pollution Control Board's (KSPCB) former chairman Dr HC Sharatchandra said that although this was a serious issue, the subject had not been taken seriously by people. No studies have been done to ascertain its impact in the long run like in case of air and water contamination.
Soil pollution is caused by disposal of hazardous waste, unscientific disposal of pesticides, insecticides, medical and toxic waste, disposal of garbage and unscientific landfill sites contaminating soil in the vicinity.
Dr Sreenivas Murthy, a soil scientist from the Gandhi Krishi Vignan Kendra (GKVK), said continuous application of sewerage water into soil could lead to soil pollution.
"Sewerage water contains heavy metals due to industries discharging affluents. It also contains toxic waste and organic compounds. Indiscriminate garbage disposal into the soil leads to soil pollution as leachate system is not up to the mark. Spraying of pesticides and insecticides is another factor as 80% of them reach the soil. Another major contributor is dried excreta which contains heavy metals due to our consumption of contaminated food and strong medications.
"During 2001-2005, three PhD students from the institute conducted the study on soil pollution near Bellandur Lake and in Vrushabhavathi valley. Their study showed the presence of heavy metals. But after that, no study has been undertaken and soil pollution is increasing. In other countries, specific species of plants are grown on certain types of soils which can withstand pollutants. Heavy metals are also being recovered from water and soil by highly sophisticated filters. But none of this is being done here," Murthy said.
"Soil pollution leads to contaminated fruits and vegetables, which when consumed directly leads to health disorders. It leads to liver and kidney infections. It also acts upon the nervous system and causes skin disorders. There have been cases in the past in Punjab, Haryana, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu where crops have suffered due to arsenic and mercury poisoning. Increased consumption of chromium even can lead to impotency," he said.
Hospitals contribute little in soil pollution as it is mandatory for industries to treat medical waste with sodium chloride before letting it into drains. But industries dump waste which includes heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, lead and chromium. Leachate is also dangerous and landfill sites are problematic areas. "Since KSPCB is a regulatory agency, we issue directions to agencies and organisations to follow. Based on complaints from local people, and studies, warnings are issued to polluters. Soil pollution is specific to areas and it does contribute to pollution," KSPCB chairman AS Sadashivaiah said.
Speaking to DNA, environment, forest and ecology principal secretary Meera Saxena said hazardous waste leads to soil pollution and thus special attention is being given for their scientific disposal in Dobbaspet.
"People are requested not to throw medical waste and discarded tube lights and flouroscent lights everywhere. Instead, they are told to treat them as bio-medical and hazardous waste, segregate them and dispose them scientifically," Saxena said.
She also pointed out that urban landfill sites need improvement.
Chandrashekar Hariharan, CEO of Biodiversity Conservation (India) Limited, said the central sanitation network takes away all the nutrients and essential elements which soil needs. Soil pollution is increasing alarmingly in Bangalore. In olden days, all the excreta went into the soil at night and into the soak pits, which decompose and thus enrich the soil. But because of rapid urbanisation, this is not taking place. The soil is slowly dying due to lack of nutrients and construction activity.
"Soil is the only asset of any nation. But it is being killed as land surfaces are tarred and concretised leaving no room for soil. Earthworms are important for the soil to turn and ariate, but they are also becoming least important. Earthworms are the life and blood of any ecosystem and their absence kills the soil, which is happening now. People are not letting the land breathe as every inch of it is filled with concrete and tar. This has led to increase in land temperature resulting in the formation of heat islands in the city," Hariharan said.
It is important for water to percolate into the ground as this will not enrich the soil but also recharge the ground water. This will also help improve the micro climate of the city. Soil is the essence of the atmosphere and it is sad that limited attention is being paid to it, he said.
Another indicator for the soil getting contaminated is the absence of snakes and mongoose. The increased sighting of snakes is an indicator that their habitat underground is no longer conducive.
The main causes for soil pollution are biological and chemical contamination. They include industrial waste, petroleum waste, bio-medical waste, plastic and other elements which have no retention for over 1000 years and which choke the soil.
All these have an adverse impact on the eco-system. Since development is essential and cannot be compromised upon, it is important to ensure that the soil gets its nutrients, water and is able to breathe easy.


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