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Landfill work in India causes concern

News | April 1, 2009 | By:

We [were] doing a geomembrane installation and welding job for a customer in India whose corporate slogan proudly reads, “Protecting the Future.”

Immediately upon starting the work at this site, we found that this XYZ customer was interested in everything except protection of our future, although the Web site of XYZ claims the following:

XYZ has developed and [operated] integrated common hazardous wastes treatment, storage and disposal facility (ICHWTSDF) at ABC town with an objective of collecting, transporting, treating and disposing [of] hazardous wastes generated from the industries situated in and around ABC. It is the largest ICHWTSDF [in the country] and is the only facility authorized to accept highly toxic heavy metal bearing and asbestos bearing wastes.

XYZ fulfills the infrastructural and environmental needs through various End of Pipe (EoP) projects like Integrated Common Hazardous Waste Management Facilities (ICHWTSDF), Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs), research and development facilities, waste reprocessing and recovery facilities by implementing Best Available Technologies (BAT) worldwide.

An impressive building marks the entrance to this landfill site. It’s commonly known that a Common Hazardous Waste Landfill Facility ideally should have a lining system, a system that is followed by most of the haz-waste landfill operators in India we are aware of. But not XYZ, which has thrown all caution to the wind, purely to make a huge profit by compromising on the quantity and quality of lining material.

You and your readers will be shocked to know that XYZ is using just a single liner of 1.5mm thickness. Actually it will be wrong to call it a liner because XYZ covered (i.e., asked us to cover) 50% of area with scrap liner pieces along with new liner. The scrapped pieces were joined together as a primary liner. Unfortunately, there is no secondary liner or even a proper clay layer.

The customer forced our technicians to join such pieces. The youngest of our technicians raised a simple question to XYZ: “Why are you asking us to stitch a trouser without the main zipper?” The customer’s site engineer had no answer to this except to smile shamelessly!

At a few locations, we were unable to weld the old pieces with new liner due to permanently-induced wrinkles in old liner. The customer asked us either to forget about this or repair it with “your best technology.”

The customer says he is at least using some liner. “A lot of people in India don’t even use any liner,” he claims. Well, I am searching for those people for my next article. Not a fact, though. All haz-landfill operators of repute in India follow proper guidelines. XYZ is definitely not one of them.

To the residents of ABC town, with love from M/s.XYZ: There is leachate coming, not from top of the liner, but from the ground below the liner, oozing up

ISO 14001, 2004, ISO 9001, OHSAS 18001, SA 8000 — these are the certifications XYZ has achieved for this project. Seems like the certifying bodies in India also need an investigation!

A section of landfill was completed earlier by another installer. The haz-waste, as well as in the entire landfill, has the following composition: ETP sludge, gypsum sludge, iron sludge, process sludge, distillation and tarry residue, heavy-metal-bearing waste, e-waste, glass-wool waste, all types of organic incinerable wastes, halogenated and nonhalogenated organic wastes, paint sludge, waste oils containing PCBs and PCTs, toxic organic/aqueous wastes from pesticides and drugs industries, asbestos-bearing wastes, off-specification products from pesticide/pharmaceutical industries.

When we protested that such a shoddy quality of material and poor design are against the interests of our society and nation, XYZ promised that it would cover the affected areas entirely with a new liner. Later, this was retracted from the verbal assurance given to us at the start of work.

We immediately tried to approach the managing director of XYZ to bring this serious situation to his notice, but we were not allowed to contact him. “He is traveling out of India,” was the standard reply. The matter is still pending between us and XYZ.

As a mark of protest, we have refused to accept any payment from XYZ until it takes corrective measures. XYZ personnel, on their part, have indicated to us that we will no longer be considered for any of their jobs due to the “whistle-blowing” from us. Actually we have still not blown the whistle as we are trying to prick the conscience of XYZ, so that it does a little bit of self-introspection and improves its working standards.

Though we could have brought the issue immediately to regulatory bodies or print and electronic media in India, we are still waiting for XYZ to understand the seriousness of this crime and do the needful thing. We do not want to ruin the business of our customer; rather, we are trying to change its habits. Meanwhile, we are sharing this experience with you so that such grave mistakes are not repeated anywhere in the developing world. We have not mentioned the name of this customer anywhere in this letter as our intention is not to settle scores with this company.

Although after this article is published, we are going to lose XYZ forever as our customer because it would infer our name by the easiest of guesswork. But we would be happy that we made a little contribution to the society that we live in.

Rajesh Sharma, B.Eng.-Civil; Proprietor Geo-Q Technical Services; Navi Mumbai, India

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