Hazards from toxic tannery waste in city

A S M Nurunnabi

No effective steps have yet been taken to contain thousands of cubic metres of untreated toxic waste from Hazaribagh tanneries. Though unofficially 207 tannery units in Hazaribagh area are said to be operating, an investigation reveals the existence of more than 250 additional tanneries and other related small units in the area operating without any authorisation.

According to a newspaper report, these tanneries are releasing more than 20,000 cubic metres of highly toxic liquid waste round the clock into drains and open spaces of Hazaribagh. First flowing into the surface drains in the area, the toxic waste then spreads to the low-lying areas in Lalbagh, Rayer Bazar, Mohammadpur and Kalyanpur inside the flood protection embankment. The horrid wastes thereafter find their way into the low-lying cultivable lands along the embankment or through the sluice gates into the Buriganga river.

The horrid effluents lay waste to everything in its path. The Buriganga, its ultimate destination, has been made devoid of an aquatic life, so much so that the fishermen community, who used to depend for their livelihood on this river about fifty years ago, have now lost their means of subsistence. Similar is the case with farmers who used the river water for agricultural purposes previously, now find the water too toxic for irrigation.

Other damaging effects of the toxic tannery waste are more pervasive. Hundreds of people of Jafarabad, Sultangang, Nimtoli, Basila, Katasur, Jigatola, Moneswar Road, Sher-e-Bangla Road, Post Office Road, Mitali Road, Rayer Bazar, and Hazaribagh and adjoining areas of City Corporation wards nos 47, 48 and 49 are reportedly suffering from multiple maladies as a result of air, water and soil pollution triggered by toxic waste. The corroding effects of the chemical waste are seen on tin roofs, ornaments, electronic gadgets, refrigerators and other metallic household items.

The Department of Environment seem to be powerless in the face of the massive onslaught of the toxic tannery waste. Successive governments promised either to shift the entire tanner industry to a place outside Dhaka or build a central affluent treatment plant, but neither of these measures has so far materialised. Though work of establishing a central effluent treatment plant, at the initiative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and financed by that organisation started in February last year, the work has remained stalled.

Sources in the Ministry of Industries said the government is now thinking of making it mandatory for every tannery unit in the country to install a chrome recovery and recycling plant. Keen observers stress the urgent necessity of finalising necessary legislation in this regard and enforcing it with utmost urgency in the interest of public health which is now at stake.

The authorities concerned have lately achieved success in demolishing unauthorised structures on the banks of the Buriganga river. Now, to save that river from massive chemical pollution, a similar drive for diverting the toxic effluents by other possible means may be considered by the Department of Environment. At the same time, the issue of shifting the tannery industry to a location outside Dhaka may be kept under active consideration in the greater welfare interests of the locality now suffering from the toxic waste.

Source: The Daily Star, Dhaka, August 11, 2001

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