In May this year Masilamani, a 41-year-old resident of the housing board colony opposite the Kodungaiyur dumpyard, woke up with a violent cough and breathlessness.
A visit to the doctor confirmed that he had developed acute bronchitis, a revelation that was unbelievable. Masilamani never had any such symptoms all his life.
Hailing from a fishing family, he blamed his condition on the constant smoke that emanated from the dumpyard. Given the mounting evidence, the claim might not be an unsubstantiated one.
A study conducted by Community Environmental Monitoring (CEM), a city-based environment group, on the quality of air around the Kodungaiyur dumpyard seems to confirm what many feared.
The pollutants level in the area remains at a dangerously high level, making residents prone to chronic respiratory and other diseases.
According to the study, air samples were taken from the house of Perambur MLA A Soundarrajan in February and sent to a recognised laboratory in the United States.
The analysis of the samples revealed that levels of Respirable Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) were 131 microgram per cubic metre, more than double the prescribed Indian standard of 60 micrograms per cubic metre and more than triple the level set by the World Health Organisation.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) such dust, less than 2.5 micrometres in size (PM 2.5) is referred to as “fine particles”. The agency’s website says: The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Small particles less than10 micrometres in diameter pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream.
“The severity of the issue is the fact that even children in the locality are exposed to such high levels of pollutants daily,” said Soudararajan. The particulate matter in fact is higher whenever there is a fire in the dump as it is spread by the smoke to a larger area.
The case of Kodungaiyur is not an isolated one. In Coimbatore, the Vellalore dumpyard fire on October 6 led to an air quality study which threw out similar data. RPM levels were hovering at around 130 micrograms per cubic metre.
But dust is not the only issue. The analysis also found out that air samples in Kodungaiyur were tainted with metals such as lead and manganese, considered neurotoxins when exposed in high levels.
“Traces of nickel were also found, which is carcinogenic in nature according to the WHO,” says Nagaratna, a resident.
Early this year, studies around the Pallikaranai dumpyard found excessive levels of at least five times the prescribed limit of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere.
A previous study in the locality pointed to the presence of 27 different chemicals in the air near the dumpyard, with 15 of them exceeding standard levels.
Butadine, Benzene and Chloromethane, all cancer-causing agents, exceeded levels by hundreds of times.