CSE study shows e-waste recycling leading to heavy metal contamination in Moradabad

September 28, 2015

  • Moradabad gets 50 per cent of all PCBs used in India, and 90 tonnes of e-waste everyday
  • CSE collected soil and water samples from five locations

  • India does not have heavy metal contamination standards for soil

  • Zinc levels five times higher than normal (as per US standards) in soil, and mercury eight times higher in water

  • CSE has recommended legalisation of e-recycling industry and creating standards for soil contamination due to heavy metals

Moradabad/New Delhi, September 24: A study done by the Centre for Science and Environment on Moradabad’s e-waste recycling industry has shown contamination due to heavy metals to be very high in and around the city. Moradabad is known for its e-waste recycling industry. The city is located on the banks of the Ramganga, an important tributary of the Ganga. CSE collected soil and water samples from five locations along the river. The water is used for washing by city residents and for drinking in downstream areas.

Since there are no standards to study heavy metal contamination of soil in India, CSE compared the results to Canadian and US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) standards. A soil sample collected one kilometre from the river was found to have zinc levels 15 times more than the USEPA standards, while copper levels were five times higher. Chromium level in a soil sample collected from the riverbed was twice the Canadian standard, while cadmium was 1.3 times.

The results were similar for the water samples. Mercury levels in samples taken from the Ramganga were eight times higher than the Indian standard. Traces of arsenic, too, were found. CSE collected samples from Nawabpura, Karula, Daswaghat and Rehmat Nagar— localities where a vast majority of the population is involved in handling e-waste— and Bhojpur, a neighbouring village which is also a major e-waste handling centre. These samples were tested at CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory in New Delhi. 

The study quoted Moradabad's district magistrate Deepak Agarwal who said that 50 per cent of all PCBs (printed circuit boards) used in India end up in Moradabad. The city gets about nine tonnes of e-waste each day, he said. CSE’s deputy director general Chandra Bhushan said, “With such huge amounts of e-waste being dumped in the city, structural mechanisms are needed to deal with the problem.”

Health impact 
The study quotes specialists who have gone on record to say that the soil and water of Moradabad contain heavy metals which are dangerous to the en¬vironment and can cause serious ailments, in-cluding cancer. “High levels of mercury and arsenic can lead to chronic poisoning. One of the specialists, Navneet Agarwal, Director of the Asian Hospital in Moradabad, said that tests to detect such poisoning are usually expensive and nobody gets them done. Mercury enters the foodchain through bio-accumulation in fish and other aquatic life forms. It is a known neurotoxin and interferes with the proper functioning of the brain and the nervous system.

However, ailments caused by heavy metal pollution go unreported or undetected. High levels of zinc, cobalt and nickel do not have any reported clinical problems, but they may lead to sub-clinical problems which cannot be detected on the basis of symptoms, but persist, said a physician Mukesh Raizada who has been quoted in the study.

“The country does not even have soil contamination norms or standards. We need to develop them to gauge the level of pollution in cities like Moradabad. There is also a need to monitor all riverside activities on the Ramganga river,” said Rama Kant Sahu, deputy head of CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory.

Lack of studies 
Agarwal also said that there had been no studies or health assessments to correlate increased respiratory diseases and e-waste activities in the city, says Agarwal, but he did say there had been an increase in respiratory disorder cases among people living in areas where dismantling and segregation of PCBs was done. He adds that the poor do not go to doctors easily and, therefore, it was difficult to establish the health impacts caused by e-waste-related work.

Legalise recycling 
Experts have said that since most of the e-waste recycling in Moradabad was illegal, no safety standards were being followed. Both dismantling and recycling methods are crude. As a result, 40- 50 per cent of metals are left un-extracted and cause contamination found the study. The study says that manufacturers have to be held liable for contamination caused by their products. “The manufacturers of electronics need to take responsibility of their products else e-waste will continue to find its way to the informal sector and to Moradabad,” said Bhushan.

CSE has also suggested that apart from promoting Moradabad as a brass hub, the government should promote it as an e-waste/PCB waste-dismantling centre. Such a move will ensure that the business be¬comes legal and working conditions are made safer. This could also help bring invest¬ment to the city. A complete ban on open burning of e-waste on the Ramganga river¬bank would also help check contamination, says the report.

For further information, please contact Souparno Banerjee (souparno@cseindia.org / 9910864339) of The CSE Media Resource Centre.