Petrol pumps, studies have shown, contribute one of the most toxic pollutant in the air—benzene and the National Green Tribunal has now directed oil companies—Indian Oil Corporation, Bharat Petroleum Corporation and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd—to install Vapour Recovery System (VRS) at all fuel stations, distribution centres, railway loading facilities and airports by October 31 to check the release of harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air or else the oil firms’ chairmen would have to face prosecution.
A bench of NGT chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel, SP Wangdi and Dr. Nagin Nanda passed the directions on a petition moved by Aditya N Prasad and Vallari Sheel for implementation of necessary steps to control and stop the release of VOCs like benzene, toluene and xylene during transfer of petroleum products.
The bench was disquieted by the fact that even as the Centre and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) as well as the oil companies before it did not dispute the hazardous impact of the release of VOC in affidavits filed before it, nobody has done anything in this direction even as the petition has been pending for past two years.
“…we direct that all the oil companies present before this Tribunal must complete the process (of installation of Vapour Recovery System) by 31.10.2018. The CPCB and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas are directed to issue directions and ensure that necessary steps are taken by all the concerned.
“In respect of petrol pumps selling more than 300 KL per month, the directions must be complied with preferably on or before 31.10.2018 and with regard to remaining on or before 31.12.2018,” the NGT directed.
It forewarned that, “The Tribunal may have to consider directing prosecution of the Chairman of the oil complies for violation”.
Prasad had, in his petition, said that VOCs turn into vapours from liquid and enter the atmosphere during transportation.
He said benzene, toluene and xylene (collectively known as BTX) are present in both exhaust emissions from vehicles and evaporative emissions at the fuel delivery outlets and relied on a study prepared by The Energy and Research Institute (TERI) to say that there are high levels of these VOCs in the ambient air at fuel distribution centres.
He further said most of the oil companies know that a vapour recovery system can reduce the amount of VOC vapours releasing in the air but did nothing about it. He explained how internationally, VOCs are tapped at two stages—Stage 1 is during the offloading of fuel(s) at distribution centres i.e., recovery of vapour emitted from the holding tanks/underground tanks and Stage 2 is while the fuel is transferred from holding tanks to vehicles etc.
The VOCs cannot be seen with the naked eye but can be easily detected by special infrared cameras but neither CPCB nor the Delhi Pollution Control Board has the equipment to assess their concentration.
Exposure to high level of BTX causes neuro-toxic symptoms. Persistent exposure to high levels of BTX may cause injury to the human bone marrow, DNA damage in mammalian cells and damage to the immune system. Mild exposure causes irregular heartbeat, headache, dizziness, nausea and even unconsciousness if exposure is continued for a long time. Early manifestation of toxicity is in the form of anaemia, leukocytopenia and thrombocytopenia.
A study by the Centre for Science and Environment suggested that these vapours make people living near the petrol pump and not just those working at or visiting the fuel stations vulnerable to health risks.
In its order, the NGT noted the stand taken by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas which stated that the Centre has itself directed public sector oil marketing companies to install VRS during fueling of vehicles at all the retail outlets (ROs) in Delhi and all high selling ROs, i.e., selling more than 300 KL per month in the country.
The Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) in its affidavit stated that it initiated the process of installing VRSs in 2006 and the process will be completed within four months. BPCL has also taken a similar stand. HPCL claims to have installed VRSs at 53 retail outlets in New Delhi.
The CPCB also told the tribunal way back in July 2016 that it has issued directions to petroleum companies such as BPCL, HPCL, IOC, Mangalore Refinery and Petro Chemicals Ltd, M/s Essar Oil Ltd, M/s Reliance Industries Ltd, M/s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation to install Stage-I and Stage-II VRSs in petrol re-filling stations located in the cities with a population of more than one million.
“It is clear from the above that there is no dispute about the need for installing Stage-I and Stage-II vapor recovery devices at all fuel stations, distribution centers, terminals, railway loading/unloading facilities and airports in the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
“Only issue is the implementation. The matter is pending for the last more than two years. The timelines prescribed by the CPCB have expired. There is no justification for the long delay which has already taken place in the matter in taking requisite steps necessary for protection of environment and public health,” said the tribunal before setting a deadline of October 31 for oil companies to install VRSs.
Read the Order Here