Toxin-laced bubbles cause pollution hazard on Indian beach

December 03, 2019

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CHENNAI: Children play over foamy discharge on a beach.—AFP
CHENNAI: Children play over foamy discharge on a beach.—AFP

A MENACING white foam covered one of India’s most famous beaches in Chennai for the fourth straight day on Monday creating a new pollution hazard for the country. Children have been playing and taking selfies in the clouds of white suds on Marina Beach, even though they give off an acrid smell and fishermen have been told not to go into the sea nearby. Doctors have warned that skin problems could be caused by the foam, which forms every monsoon season but has been particularly bad this year.

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board said it is analysing samples from the foam which has spread several kilometres along the beach. “It is definitely not good for people to go into the foam but they just do not understand the risks,” said Pravakar Mishra, a scientist at the National Centre for Coastal Research in Chennai who has seen the clouds of foam grow in recent years. Fisherman Jeyaseelan, 30, said customers do not want to buy even the small amount of fish he has been able to catch in recent days. “Everyone thinks it is contaminated,” he said. “My wage has been cut to next to nothing.”

Marina Beach has been a centrepiece of Chennai life for more than a century. Experts blame heavy rain in recent days that has carried untreated sewage and phosphate down to the sea. According to Mishra, much of the foam comes from washing detergent residue that mixes with other waste. Only 40 per cent of sewage in Chennai and other big cities gets proper treatment, the researcher added. “The rest flows into the sea and this is what happens.” “Pollution is now a bigger threat to India’s beaches than the rising seas,” said Mishra, highlighting the sewage, micro plastic that is killing fish and the bags and cups that cover the sand. Mishra said volunteers had collected nearly a tonne of plastic and other waste in just two hours at a Chennai beach during a recent cleanup.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2019