Ruminate on Quality Control of Environmental Labs

SPCB Labs data show results with BOD, COD level as low as 0.9 mg/L

11th December 2019

As illustrated in a recent NGT Order, river water is considered to be fit for bathing purpose when it meets the criteria of having Bio-chemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) less than 3.0 milligram per liter (mg/L), along with other requirements pertaining to Dissolved Oxygen and Faecal Coliform concentration. 

A casual look at the data shared by some State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) and Pollution Control Committee (PCC) indicates that test results obtained with regard to BOD, the ubiquitous parameter for water and wastewater characterization, was as low as 0.9 mg/L. In one case it was also found that the Chemical Oxygen Demand result reported to be in decimals, less than 1 mg/L, which seems to be very abnormal. A general perception prevail that the test results of most of the SPCBs and PCCs are not dependable. To beat such perceptions the SPCBs and PCCs should come out with innovative ways and means to share more information, e.g. test methods adopted. However, there are several reasons one can find in support of such an unconvincing perception. Firstly, the data does not contain any information about sampling technique, which seems to be easy but practically not. Secondly, the sample preservation and transport to laboratory. Thirdly, the testing time after sample collection and it’s correlation with COD. Fourth could be availability and use of a certified reference material (CRM) or standard reference material (SRM) of such a low range. According to the test method developed by Bureau of Indian Standards, Glucose-Glutamic Acid solution is needs to be used as a CRM/SRM. This is required to be prepared fresh and immediately before use. Nonetheless, the value for comparison stands at 220 ± 37 mg/L. Now, there is a need to clarify on this point as to whether this result could be compared with the test results in low range below 1 mg/L? 

Further, the confidence of results are also often linked with certifications. National Accreditation Board for Calibration and Testing Laboratories (NABL) accreditation is widely recognized in the field environmental laboratories. Some of the laboratories in SPCBs and PCCs have also availed this accreditation, which certifies ISO 17025. The accreditation is widely acclaimed because it involves a thorough process of assessment. However, it is not sure, whether all the laboratories carrying out such meaningful tests, are NABL accredited? If not, whether the samples are transported to any other place for testing in an accredited laboratory? If yes, we need to look into the second point deliberated above, the sample preservation and transport to laboratory. It is noteworthy that all SPCB/PCC laboratories should obtain NABL Accreditation. This will enhance the quality of data.

Beyond this, BOD value is based on average of number of tests of the same sample, in same condition and at the same time. When average is 0.9 mg/L, whether some values were obtained below this level? Another befitting point is about the sensitivity of measuring device or the least count of a standard burette – depending upon the method adopted.

To enhance trust level of data, there is a methodology of Proficiency Test, widely known as PT. It has become essential to participate in PT to obtain NABL Accreditation. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) also conducts PT programmes, time-to-time. It is important to review, whether, the laboratory, which has generated such a low concentration BOD result, has undergone such PT programmes? 

At the same time, it is important in the part of NABL to review how many PT providers are offering BOD measurement at such a low level. In-depth assessments should be carried out in water laboratories in private as well as government to ensure these facts. 

Abnegate Plastic Movement Gaining Ground

4th December 2019

Over the last one decade, plastic pollution has become a nationwide phenomenon and its ramifications in terms of waste management have become a critical issue. Reports on waste management by the World Bank suggest that by 2050, the world is expected to generate 3.40 billion tons of waste annually, increasing drastically from today’s 2.01 billion tons. While the East-Asia and Pacific region are likely to generate close to a quarter (23% approx.) of all the waste and South Asia will more than double its waste stream.

From Parliament to Courts to Societies in the nation and social media, voice against plastic is becoming loud and clear. 16-year-old Aditya Dubey has moved to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) seeking ban on selling polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottled beverages by IRCTC, Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Bisleri, Patanjali Peya Pvt. Ltd. and others till they start collecting back the plastic waste generated due to their products. The complaint is about the companies producing 9,49,000 tonnes of Pet Bottles every year but have not taken any adequate measure for the effective management of plastic waste created as required under Rule 9 of the Plastic Waste Management Rules which leads to plastic pollution of our environment". Restaurants and food supply companies, who are using plastic, PET and styrene materials are facing enormous challenges from the educated class.

The Central Pollution Control Board in its report on “Impact of Plastic Waste Disposal on Soil and Water Quality at Lucknow Dumpsites” in December, 2015, has found that dumping of plastic waste can deteriorate soil and underground water quality due to leaching of additives, colourants, stabilizers and filters present in the different categories of plastic products. Despite this well known fact, due to various factors including cheap cost associated with plastic packaging, and use of plastic materials; finding an ecologically sustainable and green alternative to plastic is also a herculean task.

From cricket to child education, and social fulfilments, Corporates always play a pivotal role in the society. Amazon India has recently announced its commitment to eliminate single use plastic from its packaging by June 2020. A significant step towards this change is the introduction of ‘paper cushions’, which will replace plastic dunnage like air pillows and bubble wraps across its fulfilment centers in India. Paper cushions will be used to fill the void space inside packages to ensure that the product is well protected in transit. This environment friendly and fully recyclable packaging solution has already been launched in select fulfilment centers (FC) and will be extended across all FCs of Amazon in the country by the end of the year. Packaging free shipment (PFS) is now expanding leaps and bounce. Toyota Kirloskar Motor has also geared up for elimination of plastic usage from manufacturing process, in service parts operation by introducing alternate packaging Materials like paper and cotton bags and also reduction of 45% plastic footprint, as part of its company-wide 5’R’ initiative.

Some vibrant leaders like Mrs. Meenakshi Lekhi, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha from New Delhi constituency, have been relentlessly working to install plastic crushing machines at various strategic locations. Distribution of cotton bags and discouraging plastic usage has become her primary focus. With the top leadership under Hon'ble Prime Minister, every Indian has to stand firm to beat the challenge of plastic pollution and contribute towards a sustainable nation, a sustainable world for our own and our future generations. 

A Minimalist is a Green Hero


27th November 2019

According to a recent statement laid in the Lok Sabha, during the period 01.04.2014 to 31.03.2019, as much as 69141.32 hectare of forest land was diverted in 3616 cases under Forest Conservation Act, 1980. And, a maximum of 21057.08 hectare of the forest land was diverted for mining purpose, followed by 16450.71 hectare for irrigation and 8733.81 hectare for roads. This data has a huge significance in terms of natural resources, and environment of the nation. Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the Earth. Ores recovered by mining include metals, coal, oil shale, gemstones, limestone, gravel, and clay, etc.Mining has significant impact on the environment, much more than the degradation of forest land. And, the further industrial processing of mineral ores has another set of environmental impact. 

According to the Ministry of Coal, the all India Production of coal during 2018-19 stood at nearly 730.35 million tonnes (MT). In FY19, India produced 131.57 million tonnes (MT) and 106.56 MT of gross finished steel and crude steel, respectively. And, our target is to produce 300 million tonne of steel by 2030-31. With 460 million tonnes per year (mtpa) of cement production capacity as of 2018, India is the second largest cement producer in the world and accounts for over 8 per cent of the global installed capacity, as of 2018. The cement production capacity is estimated to touch 550 MT by 2020. In addition to road infrastructure, housing for all needs more cement, building materials like sand, aggregates etc. The demand for sand resources is rising. Shifting consumption patterns, growing populations, increasing urbanization and infrastructure development have increased multifold demand over the last couple of decades. The global requirement of sand now is above 50 billion tonnes per year, an average of 18 kg per person per day. With further growing demand the quantum of environmental impact could be envisaged from these data.

Undeniable truth is development needs resources. There is a need to ensure sustainable growth. This could be attained through sustainable resource management, which means both (a) ensuring that consumption does not exceed levels of sustainable supply and (b) ensuring that the earth‘s systems are able to perform their natural functions to ensure the long-term material basis of societies in a way that resource extraction, use, and waste and emissions management do not surpass key thresholds for long-term environmental sustainability and human wellbeing. Sustainable supply refers to the amount of resources that can be extracted and used for production and consumption before the threshold of a safe operating space is surpassed. At a global scale, (sustainable) levels of production equal (sustainable) levels of consumption. At a local scale, sustainable supply is aimed at by safe operating practices. 

Researching viable options for resource conservation is the crying need of the time. 

Some countries already have high aggregate recycling rates because of virgin aggregates costs, e.g. Germany recycles 87% of its waste aggregates. in India there are cases of used non-toxic municipal waste as a replacement for aggregates in road-building, as well as the use of waste foundry sand used (Siddique et al. 2004, 2015), waste rubber (Gupta et al., 2014), waste tiles (Singha & Singla, 2014) to produce concrete. There is a need to promote more such works. 

The Ministry of Steel is proactively working towards reuse of different types of slags generated from steel plants. Construction and Demolition wastes could play a vital role in supplying the raw materials for housing and road construction projects. Every action at this stage needs to be supported with lowest carbon footprints. To sum up, Gandhian principle is the best way to attain green growth. In contemporary world, a minimalist is the green hero, the real hero.