Odisha PCB's endeavour to curb air pollution

In a bid to abate air pollution from the burgeoning number of industries, Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) has initiated a scheme of installing online emission monitoring system (EMS) for measuring air pollutants in industries.

All about EMS
In the first phase of the project, SPCB has directed 29 large industries to install online stack and ambient air quality monitoring system in their plants and transmit real time data to SPCB server through an advanced communication system like GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). The GPRS network should consist of a GPRS device enabled with GSM SIM card and transmit data through existing mobile phone network. The industries are also directed to display the real-time air quality data through an electronic display board in front of their gates for public information.

Talking about the new technology for maintaining air quality, Dr A K Swar, Senior Environmental Engineer with the OSPCB said that “the SPCBs and industries in the country have been monitoring ambient air quality by High Volume Samplers and stack monitoring by stack monitoring kits since last few decades. These devices are semi-automatic in nature and do not have capability to generate/transmit real time monitoring data automatically to SPCBs. The revised National Ambient Air Quality Standards notified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on 11th November, 2009 introduced some critical parameters which require sophisticated online monitoring system for accuracy. Also, since the number of polluting type of industries in the State has increased it was felt appropriate to introduce online monitoring system for highly polluting large scale industries.”

The new technology has introduced an innovative concept called ‘Y Cable’ which captures online data prior to landing at the plant’s local computer and transmits it through GPRS device to the server of the board directly without any lag, eliminating the scope for manipulation. “Such a technology is being used in India for the first time” says Dr Swar. He further adds that “the GPRS network can simultaneously send real-time data to SPCB server, server of the industry and electronic display board installed in-front of the factory gate. Once we install the system at our office, the system will be linked with Central Pollution Control Board’s website. Such measures will introduce more accountability on the part of industries and bring about transparency in the work of SPCB and other stakeholders.”

At present the server is receiving real time data from stack and ambient air quality monitoring systems of ten industries and the rest nineteen industries are in the process of connecting with the server of the Board. The system is under trial and may need a few months time for connecting with the website of SPCB, Odisha for public view.
The EMS would keep a check on air pollutants such as PM10, PM2.5, SO2, NO2, CO in the ambient air and PM, SO2, NO2, HF from stack emissions. The 29 industries which are directed to install EMS include pollution intensive industries such as integrated steel, sponge iron plants, thermal power plants, cement plants, fertilizer plants, paper mills, aluminium smelter, aluminum refinery etc.

Will data disclosure help in curtailing pollution?
When asked how the disclosure of air quality parameters will help in curtailing air pollution Dr Swar replied that “the real time data transmission will keep the regulators and industries on their toes. In the events of high emission the plant head will receive an SMS alert, so that they will immediately take measures to control the pollution. Since the data will also be displayed for public outside the plant, there will always be a fear of public criticism which will also incite the plant engineers to maintain their air quality within permissible limits. In case of continuous violation from a particular plant the SPCB can issue a show cause notice and a closure direction to the defaulting industry to promptly curb air pollution.” 

The limiting factor
The industries however, show less willingness to adopt the system owing to continuous data transmission from their plant to the SPCB. Also the cost of installation of the system is around INR 50 lakhs which is a huge initial investment, the industries are reluctant to invest in EMS. Dr Swar expounds “when it becomes a regulatory requirement the industries will have to make budgetary provisions to invest in EMS. To instill confidence among the industries and maintain transparency SPCB has a provision for industries to send an SMS back to the server explaining the cause of high emission at that particular time when they receive a message from SPCB notifying them about their high emissions. The reasoning given by the industries will be recorded by the server of the Board for future use.

A committee of three senior officials of SPCB has been constituted to overview the progress of installation of online monitoring system in the State. It will also help the head office and regional offices of SPCB to get data daily, weekly and monthly and the reports will be published automatically to all the authorized users automatically. Similar technologies have been implemented in other States with no tangible proof of improvement in air pollution. Huge data is generated which is most often not used by regulators for monitoring and analysis.

Sundeep, Senior Environmental Engineer from Central Pollution Control Board says that the technology is in a very nascent stage of implementation in India and can be a good experience for regulators to learn from each other. However, such technologies are amenable for manipulation and proper sealing arrangements should be made to avoid human interference. There is no common guideline with specification for calibration and results from different types of imported equipments can also vary. Online data can also be sometimes unreliable owing to a process malfunction or sudden weather changes. With the advent of EMS, SPCBs and industries will have to play a proactive role to find solutions to such issues and managing the air quality to ensure a safer environment for everyone.