x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Fears of rapid rise in hazardous wastes

The increase is expected as the country continues to diversify economically into new industries such as fertilisers, metals and minerals.

Experts projecting an exponential increase in the amount of hazardous waste produced by the UAE are warning a radical overhaul of disposal methods is needed.

While no government figures are available for how much hazardous waste is produced, the international consultancy Frost & Sullivan estimates it at 80,000 tonnes a year.

Sasidhar Chidanamarri, an industry manager at the company, said the company believed this figure would grow "at a compound annual rate of nine per cent" - a rate that if sustained until 2020 would mean the country was producing almost double the amount at 160,000 tonnes per year.

However, that rate of increase is "a conservative estimate", warned Mr Chidanamarri. "It could be 10 or 11 per cent."

The increase is expected as the country continues to diversify economically into new industries such as fertilisers, metals and minerals, said Mr Chidanamarri.

Industry is the biggest source of such waste, though household products including mobile phones, some energy-saving light bulbs and electric batteries can also become hazardous.

To arrive at its figures, Frost & Sullivan interviewed waste transport companies, recyclers and operators of waste segregation facilities.

At current levels, about 43 per cent of the country's hazardous waste is produced in Abu Dhabi and about 36 per cent in Dubai, according to Mr Chidanamarri.

The oil and gas industry is the biggest producer. Its waste includes the soil contaminated in exploration and drilling, as well as solvents, corrosion inhibitors and spent catalysts used in various processes. Also, while oil refineries treat any water they use before discharging it at sea, toxic sludge is generated in the process.

Oil and gas companies have their own facilities where hazardous wastes are mixed with other chemicals, making them inert or neutral chemically and thus less dangerous. Some of the waste is also burned in incinerators.

But Mr Chidanamarri said many incinerators are up to 15 years old, and do not all adhere to modern air-pollution norms.

Still, while oil and gas companies do have means of treating their wastes, other industries lack them altogether, he said.

"The country at present does not have the necessary infrastructure," he said, explaining that waste from fertiliser plants, paper mills, pharmaceutical companies and plastic manufacturers often ended up at municipal solid waste landfills unsuited to their storage. Groundwater pollution is a particular area for concern, he said.

Of all seven emirates, only Dubai has a dedicated hazardous waste facility, located in Jebel Ali. However, because of what Mr Chidanamarri called a "lack of oversight" hazardous waste sometimes finds its way to other landfills in the emirate. Officials from Dubai Municipality were not available to comment.

In the capital, the Centre for Waste Management-Abu Dhabi has contracted a private company to build a hazardous waste facility near Al Dhafra landfill. The centre awarded a Dh217 million contract to Al Qudra Suez Services to design and build the facility and operate it for 15 years before transferring ownership to the Government.

Richard Davidson, waste management specialist at the consultancy Keo Infrastructure, said the decision to build the Al Dhafra facility was "fantastic progress".

He said another positive step was Abu Dhabi's green building system, Estidama, under which developers of villa compounds are rewarded with extra green credits if they provide communal facilities for the storage of hazardous waste.

In Fujairah, the biggest producers of hazardous waste are recyclers of used oil, said Engineer Fatma Sharary, head of the environment protection department at Fujairah Municipality. Nobody from Sharjah, or Ras Al Khaimah was available for comment.

vtodorova@thenational.ae