Pollution caused by construction sites. Is this solvable?

The back-bone of economic development is infrastructure. All construction sites generate high levels of pollution and this can carry for large distances over a long period of time. As per the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) officials, 30 percent of air pollution is caused due to dust which emanates from construction sites.

air pollution causes pie chart

Source of pollution at Construction Sites

Various construction activities like land clearing, operation of diesel engines, demolition, burning, and working with toxic materials contribute to air pollution.

  • Construction dust: Construction and demolition operations contribute to windblown dust problems—sometimes called fugitive dust—onto nearby roadways which can remain in the air for days or even weeks.
  • Big source of PM 2.5 on construction sites comes from the diesel engine exhausts of diesel generators, vehicles and heavy equipments.
  • Noxious vapours from oils, glues, thinners, paints, treated woods, plastics, cleaners and other hazardous chemicals that are widely used on construction sites, also contribute to air pollution.
  • C&D Waste: The waste comprising of building materials, debris and rubble resulting from construction, re-modeling, repair and demolition of any civil structure. Construction industry in India generates about 10-12 million tons of waste annually.

Is banning construction the solution?

In the wake of severe levels of pollution, temporary ban on construction and excavation work was enforced under GRAP across the national capital region in november and december, last year. Unfortunately blanket banning of infrastructure construction mid-way often leaves the site looking like this, with the dust and debris further polluting the environment and making matters worse.

construction site
construction site

Thus even as a short term solution, construction ban has its shortcoming which stirs up the question whether it should even be considered as a solution. Besides, given pollution levels are high almost year round, for a developing country like India, putting a stop to infrastructure development strikes as counter-productive and unsustainable.

Rules and clearances for Construction projects

The Ministry of Environment and Forest has made it mandatory to obtain environmental clearances for construction projects having covered built-up area greater than 20,000 sq.m.

Indian Government has also set forth guidelines and made it mandatory for construction site owners to implement dust preventive measures in order to minimize the impact on environment. Here are few of them -

  • Construction material at the site and on the vehicles that carry them should be properly covered.
  • Keeping the ground at construction sites wet to let the dust settle and inhibit it from spreading.
  • Setting barriers around construction site and covering mounds of sand with dust barrier sheets.
  • The construction companies are being asked to submit reports on the current status of construction and steps being taken by them to comply with the ministry of environment and forests guidelines, 2010, on prevention of dust and garbage accumulation on their construction sites
  • Littering or obstruction to public drains, water bodies, traffic and direct dumping of construction and demolition (C&D) waste in landfill sites should not be done.
  • According to the C&D Waste Management Rules, 2016. The system should contain proper collection of segregated C&D waste from the generator, proper transportation of waste, storage of waste followed by proper processing of waste into recycled or reusable products that have market value and where minimal rejects are produced which get disposed in designated landfills.

Unfortunately there is lack of adherence to these guideline and lack of enforcement. If we compare a construction site in India vs in other developed parts of the world we can immediately see how a properly executed construction project can significantly contain the amount of pollution being generated.

construction comparison Singapore vs Indiaconstruction comparison Singapore vs India

The way forward

For real results, we need both a stick and a carrot solution along with citizen participation.

The government and local municipal corporations must ensure that the construction industry strictly adheres to environmental regulations. As citizens we can help by reporting projects which are not following relevant guidelines. Infrastructure projects must clearly publish timelines, which should be communicated to citizens, to keep construction teams accountable. And there should be penalties associated with delays.

But we also need incentive systems to motivate construction companies to follow environmentally friendly construction practices. In recent years some construction firms are opting to incorporate green building into their design and building process. Design standards with accreditations (such as Well Certification, EDGE certification etc.) and green building rating systems are becoming essential attributes which increase the value of a building, introduce energy efficiencies and also helps in reducing the environmental impact associated with the building materials.

The Green Building Movement by the Indian Green Building Council(IGBC) part of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has rating systems such as:

  • US based LEED certification managed by CII focuses on 5 factors : Energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.
  • National Rating System - GRIHA initially conceived and developed by TERI (The Energy & Resource Institute) has criteria categorized into (i) Site Planning during building planning and construction stage (ii) Water Conservation (iii) Energy Efficiency (iv) Waste Management (v) Environment for good health and wellbeing.

Incorporating the carbon footprint, pollution and waste created during the construction process into such certification systems can both help educate as well as incentivise construction projects to adopt more environment friendly construction practices. As citizens we can encourage our employers, and choose to live and work in green buildings.

In Conclusion

We at Airveda believe that pollution due to construction can be significantly reduced via proper enforcement, incentives and education along with strong citizen participation. What do you think? What can we as individuals and the government do to transform construction and infrastructure development to a non-polluting source? Please write in the comments below. We would love to hear from you.


About the author

Rashi Borana is an Airveda team member passionate about air quality.