Toxic smoke from Bhalswa landfill chokes city

Huge plumes of white smoke covered an otherwise clear blue sky in North Delhi on Wednesday, as fires fed by garbage at the Bhalswa landfill raged on.

Small fires at North Delhi Municipal Corporation’s Bhalswa landfill turned into a blaze earlier this week and fire tenders had to be called in. On Wednesday, apart from many smaller fires that can be seen throughout the year, a large cloud of smoke was emanating from the landfill.

At a time that Delhi is embarking on round two of the odd-even scheme and the government is focusing on reducing air pollution, the landfill fires pose not only a direct health hazard, but a challenge to reducing air pollution.

All of Delhi’s municipal solid waste (MSW), or garbage, ends up at three landfills – Bhalswa in North Delhi, Okhla in South Delhi and Ghazipur in East Delhi. With the city producing an average of 8,360 metric tonnes of MSW daily, the landfills have long crossed their intended capacities.

Every summer as the mercury rises, small fires erupt in the landfills due to the build-up of methane gas, which is highly combustible.

Last week, a massive blaze erupted at East Delhi Municipal Corporation’s Ghazipur landfill, which gets about 2,800 MT of waste daily.

The municipal councillor from Bhalswa, Ajeet Singh Yadav, said the landfill fire had been raging for years. “Unfortunately, we have become tired of complaining about the smoke. People in my ward are suffering from so many complications because of the smoke,” said Mr. Yadav.

The BJP-ruled NDMC has all but given up. Mohan Bhardwaj, the chairperson of the Standing Committee, said there wasn’t anything the corporation could do stop the fires. “The methane catches on fire, and incidents increase in the summer. There is nothing we can do right now,” said Mr. Bhardwaj.

He added that a long-term solution would be the setting up of a waste-to-energy plant, which would include a methane capturing facility. A consultant has been appointed to design the project, and work will begin soon, said Mr. Bhardwaj.

Anumita Roychowdhury, an executive director at the Centre for Science and Environment, said the toxicity of the smoke depended on the components of the trash.

For instance, burning plastic would be highly toxic.

“All the major pollutants, including particulate matter, is present in the landfill smoke. We need a different approach when it comes to solid waste. We can’t keep dumping,” she said.

Ms. Royshowdhury added that a fundamental change at household-level, including segregation and composting, would be needed to reduce the load on the landfills.


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