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Baghjan disaster may cause long term environmental damage


GUWAHATI, July 28 - A study conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), an autonomous body under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, on the adverse impact of the Baghjan gas well blowout has revealed shocking and long-term environmental damage in the area, including Dibru Saikhowa National Park and the Maguri Motapung wetland.

The study done after an extensive field survey (May 29 to July 7) and sample collection noted serious contamination of air, water and the terrestrial system. The team comprised WII scientists Qamar Qureshi, Vishnupriya Kolipakam and Abdul Wakid.

�Even after seven weeks of the incident, the leakage into the system continues, with no sign of containment,� the report noted, implying that the wetland and the national park (the wetland is intrinsically linked to its ecosystem) environment has been bearing the brunt of the spill for a prolonged period.

Stating that the oil spread out not only on land, but also dispersed into the surrounding rivers and wetlands that are lifelines for both wildlife and communities, the report noted that the affected area is biodiversity rich and one of the important remaining refuges for several endangered and range restricted species.

�The wetland and river in the area are also a critical lifeline for the surrounding communities. During the on-site survey a dead dolphin, several carcasses of dead fishes, herpetofauna and many species of insects were encountered. The oil spill has caused mortality and wilting of many plant species, and has severely affected the health of forests and grassland,� the report said.

�There is a coating of oil film on the vegetation, the beel, riverfront, as well as on many species of river fauna, birds and mammals, in the impacted area. There is a leakage of hazardous and toxic chemicals, which is dangerous to life in general, and this toxicity is known to persist in aquatic and soil of the spill,� it said, adding that the loud noise due to the explosion could be heard as far as 12 km and beyond, making the area extremely unhealthy for humans and wildlife.

Mentioning that large amount of oil and associated pollutants were discharged into the system, the report stated that levels of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde in the environment surrounding the well blowout site, which were measured using remote sensing data, showed dangerously high levels of pollutants.

�NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) has shown 16% increase on 27th May (on the day of the spill), which is highest recorded in our data time window (1st May to 10th July). SO2 (sulphur dioxide) levels spiked on 28th May (a day after the oil spill) and highest recorded on 9th June (on the day of the blowout), 2020 and then subsided. HCHO (formaldehyde) also showed spike on 28th May, 9th June and highest on 21st June and CO (carbon monoxide) levels did not show much changes before and after blowout,� it said.

The burnt out area is mapped as 65-70 hectares which includes cropland, grassland and swamps.

The assessment of water and sediment pollution showed the Maguri Motapung beel to be the worst affected and large-scale death of aquatic fauna was observed. There was also concentration of environmental contaminants in the waters of Lohit and Dibru rivers as well as Maguri Motapung beel, the report said, adding that the findings of the present study were significantly higher than other studies in India.

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