Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Residents of the small Gomtu town in Samtse say dust particles from the Penden Cement Authority Limited (PCAL) plant are causing pollution.
They allege thick dust particles emitted from the plant during the lockdown.
A resident said dust particles emitted during the lockdown were thick and resembled snowflakes.
“It became so dusty here,” he said. “Even vehicles were covered by dust.”
He said dust particles could be harmful to eyes and drinking water.
Another resident, Phurba, said the dust pollution mostly affected the BOD area at the town’s entry point.
“Since it happened during the lockdown, people staying on the upper side of the town didn’t see much.”
He said they lodged a complaint to the PCAL management.”
Another resident said although they lived with such dust particles before, the particles are becoming heavy now.
“Roads, trees and building roofs were covered by the dust flakes.”
He said it is time the issue is resolved. PCAL sprinkles water but it is just on the road and it doesn’t help much, he added.
PCAL’s chief executing officer (CEO), Tenzin, said due to the pandemic and lockdowns, there are several interruptions in the plant operations.
“Frequent shutdown and startups are not recommended for the smooth operation of the plant. The plant and equipment takes time to stabilise and during the process, the emissions are also comparatively higher,” he said.
The CEO said it is not possible to attend to plant emergencies during the pandemic and lockdown like the normal days.
“Dust emissions were observed from ‘kiln inlet’ mainly due to interruptions in the process and it was not possible to immediately attend to the problem.”
He said PCAL managed to shut down the kiln and rectify the problem and thereafter the emission was normal.
“This type of emission happens only whenever there is system or process disturbances, which is rare.”
Tenzin also said the dust particles are “partly calcined raw meal,” which occurred due to process upset. It is in process material for clinker production in the kiln. This kind of emission is not continuous.
“It occurs rarely whenever there are system or process problems,” he said.
He said such emissions are also heavy and easily settle down on the ground rather than suspending in the air.
“As such, there is no direct impact causing serious health hazards.”
He also said if there is continuous excess emission of dust particles, it may impact the respiratory system apart from polluting the surroundings.
“Whenever the excessive dust emission occurs during plant operation due to leakages from the system or emission of dust from the chimney, it is planned and the plant is stopped for rectification and replacement of the damaged components.”
The management justified PCAL also has the Environment, Health and Safety Unit (EHSU) responsible for monitoring the air quality and supervises the implementation of all environmental norms as mandated by the National Environment Commission (NEC).
They claimed a water sprinkler truck is engaged daily for spraying water (from 6am to 5pm) on the roads during the dry season to control the dust throughout Gomtu town, school and hospital roads. Water hydrant points are also provided in some areas to spray water to suppress the dust.
CEO Tenzin said as per NEC norms, stack emission and ambient air quality are measured and submitted to NEC on a quarterly basis. PCAL is also planning to arrange a water mist generator to suppress the dust.
“PCAL is planning to procure a vacuum truck and upgrade the plant into a dust free plant in the future,” he said.
“The dust emission is a problem only during the dry season and whenever there are interruptions in the plant operations. They are being continuously monitored and managed on time.”