Pollution has become a part of our daily lives. Everywhere we go we are exposed to various types of pollution such as noise, air, energy, light, and others. Pollution can be the result of natural source, as well as human-made. The leading cause of pollution is considered to be motor vehicle emissions. However, it is closely followed by chemical plants, coal-powered power plants, oil refineries, nuclear waste, farms, metal and plastic production, and other heavy industry. Today I wanted to talk about 5 amazing environmental restorations or polluted locations that were efficiently cleaned up by local governments.
1. Yamuna River, India
Yamuna River is located in northern India and is the longest and second largest river of the Ganges. While the quality of water is somewhat reasonable between Yamunotri in the Himalayas to Wazirabad in Delhi, after the Wazirabad 15 different wastewater drains merge into the river and turn the river into one of the most polluted places on Earth. Most of the effluent is household water and municipal disposals, and of course, wastewater from factories spread throughout Delhi. According to the Central Pollution Board’s report from 2011, by the time the river exits Delhi, it is lethal. While the standard of water quality for bathing is 500 coliform bacteria per 100 milliliters, waters of Yamuna river contain 1.1 billion (!!!) fecal coliform bacteria per 100 milliliters.
In past 3 decades, USD 300,000 million was spent on the rejuvenation of Yamuna river and an additional USD 900,000 million will be spent over the next few years. This money will be invested in the upgrade of existing sewage treatment plants and the development of green areas along the bank of Yamuna river. The riverfront will have parks, grasslands, and forests. The next discussion point is how to bring the industrial areas to the concept of “zero discharge”, which can be a real game changer when coupled with “Yamuna, Rejuvenation Project, 2015”. Mutual efforts of the Indian government, the National River Conservation Directorate, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests are going to turn Yamuna river clean-up into one of the most amazing environmental restoration projects on earth.
2. Sumgayit, Azerbaijan
Sumgait is the third largest city in Azerbaijan located near the Caspian Sea, has a population of approximately 300,000 people and occupies a territory of 83 square kilometers. Sumgayit represented an industrial leadership in ex-Soviet Union by being one of the largest industrial complexes in the country. The city had the highest concentration of petrol and petrochemical production in the former USSR. The factories generated over 300,000 tons of solid waste of 64 different types and only 170,000 tons were actually utilized. As a result of contamination, newborn death rates increased significantly. 27 out of every 1000 babies born didn’t survive 1 year and Sumgait’s children’s cemetery is a sad reminder of how harsh the pollution can be.
The Azerbaijani government claims that the situation in Sumgayit improved since. Only 10-15% of industrial plants are operating currently and production of solid waste went down from 300,000 tons a year to 3.868 tons a year. In addition, The World Bank has issued a loan to the Azerbaijani government for construction of a burial range for mercury waste and cleanup of a chlorine producing plant. The environmental progress made by the Azerbaijani government earns Sumgayit a place in our rating of the most amazing environmental restorations.
3. Vapi, India
Vapi is the second largest city in the state of Gujarat (India) and probably the most technologically developed in the area. In 2008 the city was ranked the 2nd most polluted place on Earth due to its poor quality of air and water caused by near-laying chemical factories and nightly chemical emissions. The level of mercury in ground water was 96 times higher than it should be according to the World Health Organization standards. The exposure to mercury leads to neurological deficits and damages heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system.
Since 2008 the situation in Vapi has improved significantly and Black Smith Institute even removed Vapi from the list of the most polluted places on Earth. Significant investments in environmental control systems were made and pollution levels in air and water improved a lot compared to the original results. Industrial waste regulations were imposed and factories aren’t allowed to dispose of the industrial waste as they wish anymore. The effluent treatment plant was upgraded and according to the test data, the quality of water in surrounding towns is acceptable for drinking. In just a few years Vapi was able to improve the environment proving that this is possible, and what environmental restoration means.
4. North Pacific Gyre
North Pacific Gyre is one of the five major oceanic gyres located in the northern Pacific Ocean. This gyre is also described as a Great Pacific garbage patch. The oceanic currents trapped inside a chemical sludge, plastics, and other litter. Nearly 5 million square miles in the Pacific Ocean is covered by floating plastic covers. Plastic debris in the ocean affects at least 267 different species and has a huge impact on the environment. There have been a few environmental projects initiated in the last few years in order to determine how much plastic is present and what would be the most efficient way to collect it.
One interesting way to collect the plastic garbage was proposed by Boyan Slut that came up with idea that seems efficient and achievable. He proposed to install a large angled barrier in places of high garbage density and allow the ocean’s currents to do their thing. Presumably, the ocean current will move the plastic through the collection zones and terminate the need of ships floating around and collecting the waste. Based on preliminary calculations each collecting zone can be cleaned in only 5 years, which makes this solution also time efficient. Right now the project is in a prototype stage and if the concept will prove itself we may see North Pacific Gyre cleaned up in the next decade. This idea seems to be so simple to implement and so brilliant that I had to include it in my rating of amazing environmental restoration.
5. Cheonggyecheon River, Korea
Today Cheonggyecheon river is a 10km long and modern public recreational area, but it wasn’t like this always. In 1968 an elevated highway was built just above the river blocking the access to the river. By the time the decision to remove the road was taken the river almost dried up. In 2003 the restoration project was initiated. The main goals of the project were highway removal and rejuvenation of the stream. After two years of construction, the river was open to the public and the outcomes were very impressive. The population of birds and fish increased significantly, the temperature in surrounding areas decrease by 3.6 °C on average, and volume of traffic was reduced. The restoration had an incredible impact on the urban image and draws the attention of millions of tourists every year. Cheonggyecheon river is a great example of how amazing the environmental restoration can be.
In the last few years, the world has seen a great movement towards environmental understanding and, more importantly, intention to eliminate the negative impact of heavy industry. Governments force manufacturers to utilize the waste properly and prevent them from dumping the wastewater into the sewage system and rivers. More and more businesses are coming onboard with green initiatives and clean projects. Finally, we have started to understand that we have only one home and we ought to keep it tidy.