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Illegal dumping of coal spreads to parts of Malir district

Updated February 17, 2019

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IGNORANT of how polluted air could affect their health, children venture around stockpiles of coal lying along a railway track in Juma Goth in Landhi.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star.
IGNORANT of how polluted air could affect their health, children venture around stockpiles of coal lying along a railway track in Juma Goth in Landhi.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star.

KARACHI: A number of companies importing coal through the Pakistan International Bulk Terminal (PIBT) in the Port Qasim area are dumping their hazardous consignments in different parts of Malir district, violating environmental laws and endangering public health, it emerged on Saturday.

Sources said that coal was being dumped in the open as well as within areas surrounded by boundary walls in Landhi, Bhains Colony, Razzaqabad and near Rehri Goth.

“While most people living nearby wouldn’t have any idea how coal could impact them, they would confirm to you that coal dumps along this railway line now cover a larger area,” said Bilal Ahmed, a livestock trader and resident of Bhains Colony where coal was being dumped at three sites.

The specific location he was talking about was located along the railway tracks in Juma Goth in Landhi where illegal dumping of coal had been going on for almost a year.

A recent visit to this place, which last year had only one coal dumping site, showed that coal was now being dumped at two locations along the railway tracks within a distance of one kilometre.

Workers were found handling coal without any safety gear in an environment heavily laden with coal dust. The coal, they said, would be transported to Punjab by the cargo trains which had arrived at the site a few hours before.

Companies not dumping coal in designated sites to cut costs

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) official said that the department had identified places in Bhains Colony, Razzaqabad and Railway Colony where coal was being dumped illegally.

“But we are waiting for a detailed report before taking up the cases,” he said in reply to a question, adding that Sepa had not given permission to anyone for setting up a coal storage facility in Malir.

SC order

The Supreme Court had directed the authorities concerned last year that “open coal will not be stored anywhere in Karachi and can only be kept in warehouses”.

The SC further ruled that in case of transportation, proper blankets and moisture must be provided to the coal so that dust should not cause pollution. It directed all ships carrying imported coal not to unload it at Karachi Port Trust but at Port Qasim.

Health hazards

Impacts of unsafe handling and burning of coal on health and environment are well documented.

Recent studies have showed that coal stockpiles emit fine particulate pollution in several ways. First, wind blowing over uncovered coal piles results in fugitive coal dust emissions that are a source of PM2.5 (particles less than or equal to 10 micrometers in diameter are so small that they can get into the lungs, potentially causing serious health problems).

Second, coal stockpiles emit volatile gases that can also lead to the formation of PM2.5 and when coal is delivered to a power plant, it goes through a lot of handling, including unloading, separating “light dust” from the coal and crushing the coal to make it suitable for burning. These processes all generate fine particulates.

Experts have linked exposure to fine particulate pollution to increased deaths and ailments caused by cardiovascular diseases and respiratory infections.

A 2017 United Nations Children’s Fund report found that air pollution is associated with pneumonia, which is responsible for the death of 920,000 children under the age of five years ever year.

Coal is being offloaded from a truck at a location in Landhi.—White Star
Coal is being offloaded from a truck at a location in Landhi.—White Star

Sepa’s stance

When contacted, Naeem Mughal, the director general of Sepa, said that he was looking into the matter seriously after he recently took over the department’s charge.

“The Supreme Court barred the Karachi Port Trust last year from offloading coal at its facility as it lacked proper storage for keeping such consignments safe. It was decided that coal would be imported using a dedicated facility at the PIBT,” he said.

Referring to the data the department has collected so far, he said that right now 22 companies were importing coal from countries such as Indonesia and South Africa.

“The PIBT has a limited coal storage facility for 15 days only, for which they charge. Now, what’s happening [is] that these companies dump coal outside the PIBT to avoid costs as well as to store their consignment till they are ready for its transportation,” he said.

In addition, he said, companies were saving money by importing coal in excess quantities. “We are pursuing it and would take action against the Port Qasim Authority, which has given licence to the PIBT, and also those running this terminal as they are allowing companies lacking storage facility to import coal.”

A Sepa team, he said, had planned a detailed visit to the PIBT next week to meet stakeholders, including industrialists, having any reservations over coal storage, handling and transportation in the Port Qasim area.

“Besides, we have written letters to the relevant police officials and local administration to take action against illegal dumping of coal in their areas,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2019