Chennai air pollution: Intense smoke, stench an everyday affair near this dump yard

32.8 per cent of respondents in the neighbourhood of Kodungaiyur dump yard faced common respiratory issues such as persistent cold and cough, sneezing, wheezing and breathing difficulties.

Published: 26th November 2019 11:36 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th November 2019 11:36 AM   |  A+A-

(Plumes of smoke rises from burning garbage at the Corporation Dump Yard at Kodungaiyur which spreads to settlements in the neighbourhood| Photo- Sushmitha Ramakrishnan)

By Express News Service

CHENNAI: With tears running down her cheeks and coughing incessantly, nine-year-old K Mary rushes back into her cramped little house in Ezhil Nagar. Her mother Kavi Nila, who stands by the entrance with the pallu of her Saree covering her nostrils, shuts the door behind her as soon as her daughter enters.

However, little protection does the duo have against the everyday woe of severe air pollution caused by garbage burning at the Corporation Solid Waste Dumpyard at Kodungaiyur situated across the road from their house. According to air quality data collected from private sources, residents of Kodungaiyur inhaled "poor" to "hazardous" quality of air on more than half the days in November alone.

According to the data, on November 9, the Air Quality Index (AQI) at Ezhil Nagar spiked to 935 µg/m3 from 4 am - 5 am. The average AQI stayed at 390 that day. The National Ambient Air Quality (NAAQ) standard is 60 µg/m3.

Between November 3 and 9, when Chennai was battling the infamous smog, Ezhil Nagar too was marinating in toxic air. The pollution levels did not drop below 250 µg/m3, for a whole week, according to The average AQI for that week stayed at 334 µg/m3.

Even on the days, when the average air quality seemed to relatively improve, there were short but intense spikes of very poor air quality owing to incidents of garbage burning. For example, on Sunday, the average AQI was 190 µg/m3. However around 7 am, the value shot up over 450 µg/m3.

The area is choked by intense smoke and obnoxious smell, every time there is a fire in the dump yard. K Ahmed* a resident of Ezhil Nagar told Express that residents were further scared to inform the fire services when they spotted burning garbage in the Kodungaiyur dumpyard.

"We start coughing and feel suffocated every time garbage is burned. If I call the fire service, they come check the fire and go back without fixing it. They however alert the local police officers, who come and probe the neighbourhood on who made the call," he said.

Whenever garbage is burnt at the Kodungaiyur dumpyard, residents like Mary and her mother have very little defense. According to a study conducted by Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), a Chennai based non-profit organisation, 32.8 per cent of respondents in the neighbourhood of the dump yard, faced common respiratory issues such as persistent cold and cough, sneezing, wheezing and breathing difficulties.

In addition to this, several studies have shown the presence of unsafe levels of over a dozen toxic gases including Carbon-monoxide and Ammonia in the area. "Even though burning of garbage is illegal, isolated incidents keep happening everyday. While the problem has definitely come down over the last couple of years,it is far from solved," said Ganesan Perumal from the Ever Vigilant Citizens Welfare Association, which operates from the area.

He added that government must respond proactively to citizen complaints and carefully segregate waste according to government rules before sending it to the dumpyard. "Often, when flammable waste is deposited in the dump yard, gases like Methane which is trapped under the garbage, fuels a larger fire," he said adding that by not combating the pollution problem near Kodungaiyur, the government is violating their right to clean air and water.

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