Use of Fly Ash as Fertilizer Draws Flak From Environmentalists

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Tribune News Service

FARIDKOT: For many years, fly ash from the thermal plants has been used for cement production. But now, with the steep rise in the price of chemical fertilizers, the claim by soil scientists of having developed a technique to use fly ash as a substitute for chemical fertilizers may create a buzz.

However, this claim of soil scientists at the Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidyala (IGKV), Raipur, has been countered by the environmentalists and social scientists in Punjab who are of the view that the use of this highly toxic thermal plant waste will add to the toxic contents in the food chain.

Fly ash, a mineral residue resulting from the combustion of powdered coal in thermal plants, is mainly used for cement production in the region because of its low cost. Fly ash can replace up to 50 per cent of Portland cement by mass and it is less expensive than cement.

Now, when there has been a high rise in the price of chemical fertilizers, particularly the DAP (a highly concentrated nitrogen-phosphorus fertilizer), from Rs 467.50 in October 2011 to Rs 1,275 in October 2012 (for every 50 kg), soil scientists at the IGKV claimed to have developed a technique to improve the soil quality and production of various crops, fruits and vegetable by using fly ash.

Besides resolving the storage problem of fly ash, its agricultural use will also increase production manifold, claimed Dr KK Sahu, principal scientist at IGKV.

Application of fly ash in farming will prove to be a boon for farmers in Chhattisgarh because its use in the field helps to lower the acidic nature of the soil. “Fly ash contains various nutrients to nourish the plants. It not only improves soil quality but also acts as fertilizer,” said Sahu.

After this claim by the IGKV, the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), Korba, in Chhattisgarh started providing fly ash free of cost to the farmers and also organised a day-long farmers’ fair,” said Dr Sahu.

Countering this claim, Dr GS Dhillon, a former chief engineer in the irrigation department and a noted environmentalist, said the fly ash contain heavy metals like mercury, cadmium as well as arsenic and radioactive materials, albeit in different concentrations.

At a time when Punjab is already facing the problem of cancer due to high use of chemical and fertilizers in agriculture, toying with the of using fly ash as an fertilizer would further worsen the problem, said Dr Amar Singh Azad, a noted environmentalist and paediatrician.

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