Research Digest

Hazardous e-waste is contaminating Delhi’s groundwater and soil

Effluents from gadget recycling workshops have been thrown without treatment on the land.

Widespread use of digital devices – mobile phones, tablets, computers, smart watches and more – has made electronic waste a new environmental problem. Discarded gadgets result in massive piles of e-waste, which is contaminating soil and groundwater in the national capital, a new study has pointed out.

The results of the study, published in journal Current Science, have indicated that soil and water contamination is likely to find its way into the human body resulting in health hazards.

Researchers at Jamia Millia Islamia studied soil and groundwater in East Delhi’s Krishna Vihar industrial area and discovered an alarming amount of toxic heavy metals leaching into them. Krishna Vihar houses unorganised e-waste handling and dumping units and is dotted with recycling units that release their hazardous effluents, including heavy metals, directly into open lands. Often solid waste is disposed just by burning it in the open.

Soil and groundwater samples were collected from five locations selected on the basis of e-waste activity around them. To compare their findings, researchers chose another five locations where there was no e-waste-related activity. The study revealed dangerous levels of contamination in both soil and groundwater near unregulated and heavily polluted e-waste dumps.

The average concentration of heavy metals (copper, lead, cadmium and chromium) in the e-waste site topsoil samples was found to be far above the range in standard agriculture soil. The average copper concentration in top soils of e-waste sites was nearly 30 times compared to reference site top soil samples. Copper concentration in the top soil was found to be 283.23 mg/kg. A close second was lead, which had a concentration of 298.10 mg/kg.

The average cadmium concentration in top soil samples was 16 times greater than that of agricultural standards, as opposed to reference site samples, which had negligible cadmium concentrations. This possibly indicated that cadmium and its compounds, which are widely applied in electrical and electronic products, have found their way into the soil in areas with high e-waste recycling activity.

“If you don’t manage e-waste in a sustainable way, toxic substances will be released into the environment,” explained Professor Sirajuddin Ahmed, co-author of the research paper. “Cadmium, chromium, lead and other heavy metals, when exposed to the environment, leach into groundwater. Very soon it enters the food chain through bio-accumulation and your liver and kidney are affected.”

Heavy metal concentration in soil is high in areas where e-waste units are located, due to unscientific recycling methods used. For instance, copper, after being extracted from printed wiring boards of digital devices, leaches out into the soil owing to improper dismantling and treatment of e-waste. Slowly, the metal builds up in the surface of contaminated soils, showing virtually no downward migration.

The concentration of all heavy metals, except zinc, in water in areas around e-waste treatment units, was also more than the prescribed limits. It was found that average concentration of copper in water sample in the e-waste site was 29 times higher than the water standards and eight times higher than the reference water levels. Copper concentration was found to be 1.465 mg/litre in the e-waste site water sample.

“When I began the study around 2012-13, live recycling workshops were predominant in the area,” said Rashmi Makkar Panwar, a member of the research team and lecturer at the GB Pant Institute of Technology. “The extraction processes of precious metals from e-waste were hazardous. Acid treatment was being carried out for recovery of metals like copper, leaving residues in acid drums. Then these effluents were being directly thrown into the land.”

The research team included Rashmi Makkar Panwar and Sirajuddin Ahmed from the Department of Civil Engineering in Jamia Millia Islamia.

This article was first published in India Science Wire.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.