Pasakha air quality deteriorating due to industrial emissions

The Bhutan State of the Environment report 2016 states that air pollution is becoming an emerging issue that has serious risks on human and environment health

Alka Katwal
from Thimphu

Deteriorating air quality is one of the biggest concerns for the residents of Pasakha in Chukha, one of the major industrial areas in Bhutan.
However, residents are of the opinion that there is not much that can be done as their livelihood depends on these mega industries, which are the main source of air pollution in Pasakha.
Pasakha today has around 30 active industries and while these have provided jobs to many, experts say that emissions from the factories have polluted the surrounding air, making Pasakha and nearby places unfavorable to live.
The levels of particulate matter of less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) at the Pasakha industrial estate have already exceeded the national permissible annual level for industrial areas. The annual average air pollution index was above 250 micro gram/m3 in 2015.
Deteriorating air quality in Pasakha was in fact a factor that contributed to the relocation of a local school a few years back.
One of the oldest shopkeepers of Pasakha under anonymity said that compared to past, the quality of the air in Pasakha is very bad today but since shops and residents depend on these big industries, they cannot protest.
“Personally, I feel I could live up to 80-90 years somewhere else but I will not make it to 50 years here in Pasakha,” said the shopkeeper.
A year ago, shopkeepers in and around Pasakha lodged a complaint regarding air pollution to the government, however nothing came out of it. “The government keeps penalizing them but it seems the industries have no other option. After all they need to release emissions,” added the shopkeeper.
Another resident of Pasakha, Jeevan, said places like Pasakha should have been on the government’s agenda a long time back but it did not simply because people are least bothered. He said the dense smoke oozing out from almost all the plants seen alongside Jumja road is not something to be ignored.
Apart from effects on human health, Jeevan said farmers have also suffered due to the impact of air pollution on crops.
Residents said if the industries provided a few water sprinklers to settle the dust as a form of compensation, it would be helpful.
In 2014, the National Environment Commission (NEC) made it compulsory for the industries in Pasakha to install energy meters and pollution abatement equipment like Gas Cleaning Plants and Effluent Treatment Plants in their respective industries.
Deputy Manager of Bhutan Silicon Metal Private Limited, one of the plants in Pasakha, Kinga Choejur, said that the industry follows all the mandatory rules and regulations that NEC has set. Additionally, each industry has its own nurses and medical facilities for their respective employees, he said.
A study conducted by NEC revealed that air quality in Pasakha deteriorated over the years due to increasing pollution from industrial operations but other fugitive sources such as increasing traffic movement, unpaved road conditions within the industrial estate and trans-boundary air pollution sources from across the border also affected the quality of air.
Senior environment officer with NEC, Tshewang Dorji, said Pasakha’s ambient air quality is also deteriorating. Ambient air quality, according to Tshewang Dorji is the air quality in the surrounding environment.
However, Tshewang Dorji, said that he would not be able to pinpoint the sources of these pollutants.
“My division has started to work on improving frequency of ambient air quality monitoring through establishment of online automatic monitoring of particulate matter levels. But right now, we are currently facing a power supply issue to the Pasakha station. We should be able to rectify the power problem and start collecting data again,” he said.
According to a NEC report, the occurrence of respiratory diseases in Bhutan is also very high; despite this there is currently no national study assessing the correlation between air pollution and the occurrence of respiratory disease.
The number of manufacturing and production industries has increased by 103.2% from 1,389 in 2008 to 2,823 in 2014. Industries also contribute to GHG emissions, which has increased by 44.74% between 2008 and 2013. The emissions from the industries are primarily from metal, chemical and mineral based (cement) industries.
The emissions from the industrial processes have increased by 118.29% from 237.76 GgCO2e in 2000 to 519.00 GgCO2e in 2010.
The Bhutan State of the Environment report 2016 states that air pollution is becoming an emerging issue that has serious risks on human and environment health.
“Its quality is deteriorating, particularly in urban centers, industrial areas and along the southern border of the country. Emission of greenhouse gases, which contributes to global climate change, is also on the rise,” it states.
The report points out that enhancing appropriate existing air quality and enforcing related standards to more stringent levels can control air pollution from domestic sources. Policies and incentives on the import of vehicles need to be harmonized. Strengthening regional cooperation can control trans-boundary air pollution and its impacts.
In addition to untold health effects trans-boundary air pollution may cause on the Bhutanese population, research is now indicating that pollution-laden clouds could also adversely affect agricultural productivity and rice production in particular.