Effluents from tanneries pose health hazard

People of Hazaribagh, adjoining areas suffering from skin diseases, itching and burning sensation

by Enamul Huq

The people of the Hazaribag and its adjoining areas are facing serious health risks due to release of untreated effluents from about 250 tanneries into the river Buriganga through the drains of the area.

Earlier tannery effluents remained stagnant in the low lands inside the Dhaka Flood protection Embankment. For the past few months the effluents were being released through large underground pipes into the river Buriganga at Katasur area near the Rayerbazar memorial.

The effluents containing chemicals from the tanneries was gushing out of the pipes and creating white foam in the river water.

People of Katasur area said that skin diseases, itching and burning sensation have been very common among the inhabitants of the area, especially among the children since the start of release of effluents through the openings.

Md Amin, Mukul and Arif, members of the local Patheyo Jubo Sangha, said that black spots were visible on the skins of the inhabitants of the area. Gas emitted from the effluents are corrosive, say experts. Inhabitants of the area said that gold ornaments and even chains of the wristwatches worn by the people of the areas got discoloured within a very short time. They said the longevity of electronic goods like TV, VCR, Fridge, Air Conditioners even tins on the roofs of houses was very short in the households of the area due to the effects of the tannery effluents released in the air and water of the area.

Md Amin, Mukul and Shefali showed their hands and legs where small black spots were visible due to the effect of tannery effluent.

Foams like those created by soap but more in quantity was found floating on a water body adjacent to the Buriganga river near Rayerbazar memorial yesterday. Water containing those foams were being released into the Buriganga river through large pipes.

They said that local people had appealed to the authorities to shift the tanneries from the Hazaribag area but that the place fell on deaf ears.

Executive Committee member of Bangladesh Tanners Association, Amir Hossain, told this correspondent that there were about 250 tanneries in the area of which 50 were big and the rest small ones. He said that it was not possible to shift so many tanneries of Hazaribag to other areas. Hossain said that a Tk 350 crore project to establish chromium treatment plant for the effluents of the Hazaribag tanneries was at the initial phase. He said that the UNIDO project under supervision of the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Industries was expected to start by February this year.

Amir Hossain said that teams had visited Italy, Germany, Turkey and India to see for themselves the works of chromium treatment plants established in those countries.

A senior official of the Department of Environment said that the Department had conducted technical evaluation and scientific review of the tanneries at Hazaribag but that a decision at the political level was needed for implementation of the recommendations. He said that the Department had no power to implement the recommendations adding that many people wanted business at the cost of health.

Source: The Independent ,Saturday 6 January 2001