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India’s fertiliser industry needs to prioritise pollution control: CSE Study

Topics covered:

  1. Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.


India’s fertiliser industry needs to prioritise pollution control: CSE Study


What to study?

For prelims and mains: pollution from fertiliser industry, concerns, challenges and measures needed.


Context: The Indian fertiliser industry has overlooked the aspects related to environmental pollution, while making improvements in energy efficiency, according to a study conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based non-profit, under its Green Rating Project (GRP).


Highlights of the study:

The fertiliser industry has been classified under the ‘red category’ of polluting sectors by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

Water pollution:

  • The discharge of untreated or partially treated industrial wastewater has increased pollution of surface water (rivers and other water bodies) and groundwater sources. Most of the groundwater samples were found to be non-compliant with the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) limits on amount of ammonia.
  • According to the BIS, the maximum permissible limit of ammonia (as total ammoniacal nitrogen) in drinking water is 0.5 ppm. However, about 83 per cent groundwater samples collected from hand-pumps in surrounding villages and near ash ponds, tubewells and borewells near 18 plant sites (out of the total 23 plant sites studied) had an ammoniacal nitrogen content of 0.51–93.5 ppm, the upper limit of which is 187 times the permissible limit set by BIS.
  • Such high levels of contamination can be linked to the seepage or overflow of a plant’s ash pond water into the ground, the study showed.
  • About 57 per cent samples collected near 14 plants were found non-compliant with fertiliser effluent discharge norms set by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, particularly with respect to cyanide concentrations in many of the samples and total Kjeldahl nitrogen levels in a few samples.
  • Some plants were also found to be diluting their wastewater with freshwater to meet pollution control norms. 


Air pollution:

  • While most plants are meeting the particulate matter (PM) standards, inefficient air pollution control devices or improper fuel combustion within the systems have led to high emission levels at some plants. There is also no regulation in India for parameters like emissions of gaseous ammonia from urea manufacturing, the study pointed out.
  • Emissions from prilling towers are the main source of pollution at a urea plants. The emissions, which contains urea dust, ammonia and oxides of nitrogen and carbon, also affects the growth and productivity of vegetation and crops around a plant. Crops become dry due to exposure to excess ammonia gas.


Solid Waste:

  • Solid and hazardous waste management of most urea manufacturing plants is satisfactory. But, a few plants are not managing their hazardous waste properly, for which they have received notices or directions from the respective PCB or CPCB.
  • Ash pond maintenance has emerged as an issue at most plants. At some plants, handling and storage of fly ash is inefficient and causes pollution due to fly ash dispersal into the atmosphere and leaching into the groundwater table.
  • A few plants transport coal by road in uncovered trucks, taking advantage of lack of strict regulations regarding transportation of coal.


Sources: Down to Earth.