Toxic smoke rises from solid industrial waste being burnt along Haripur-Taxila Road. — Dawn
Toxic smoke rises from solid industrial waste being burnt along Haripur-Taxila Road. — Dawn

The unchecked burning of solid waste, generated by industrial units, on the sides of Haripur-Taxila road near the Hattar Industrial Estate continues to expose the transporters, commuters and residents of a number of neighbouring localities to multiple health hazards.

The rising environmental pollution in the area points to apathy of the authorities concerned and lack of any strategy to address the problem.

The people using Hazara Motorway for reaching Hattar Industrial Estate are welcomed after taking exit route from Hattar interchange by stinky thick smoke and flames billowing from the heaps of chemical-laden solid waste dumped on the roadside daily. Such dumps of industrial waste could be spotted between the exit point of Hazara Motorway and railway crossing near Hattar Labour Colony.

Same is the case with the motorists and passengers travelling by public transport to and from Haripur city via Haripur-Taxila road daily.

“It is a routine matter that the drivers unload truckloads of solid waste on the sides of Haripur-Taxila road, a few yards from the Hattar Industrial Estate and unknown people set the garbage heaps on fire daily,” said Mr Zubair, a resident of Hattar Labour Colony. He said that the hazardous smoke sometimes completely envelope the road and nearby areas, making breathing difficult for the commuters, motorists and residents of nearby localities.

Burning of solid waste, generated by industrial units, at open places on the sides of Haripur-Taxila road continues to expose the commuters and residents of nearby localities to health hazards

He said that the smoke also affected the closely-situated labour colony, exposing the residents, especially children and elderly people, to respiratory diseases. He said that despite repeated complaints the relevant authorities had failed to take action against those responsible for the environmental pollution and causing serious problems for the local people.

It has been observed that owing to lack of proper waste management and disposal mechanism around 10 to 15 trucks and dumpers offload toxic solid waste daily along the roadside and the watercourse close to the railway bridge.

The solid waste carries cardboard, papers, plastic sheets, wrappers, tins, polythene sheets, disposable plastic, glass bottles and other toxic substances, which are burnt in the open.

The open burning of solid waste generated from industrial units, according to Dr Umar Khan, poses serious health risks to the people exposed directly to the smoke. He said that the people with sensitive respiratory system as well as children and the elderly were the worst affected by the pollution. A short-term exposure to smoke by the passengers, motorists or passers-by can cause headache, nausea and rashes and with the passage of time it increases the risk of developing heart complications.

Some of the pollutants contained in the smoke from open burning of garbage can include dioxins, furans, arsenic, mercury, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, hydrochloric acid, etc.

These pollutants can also end up in ash that is left behind from open burning of the waste, he says.

Dr Khan said that complaints of respiratory and eye problems were on the rise from residents of the localities directly exposed to the smoke from open burning of the industrial waste.

It was observed that the Hattar Industrial Estate, established in 1982, and the government authorities, including now-defunct Sarhad Development Authority, KP Economic Zones Development and Management Company and the tehsil municipal administration, had failed to develop environment-friendly policy.

During last three and a half decades the authorities could not establish proper industrial waste management mechanism and the people especially those directly engaged in manufacturing process and the residents of neighbouring localities are bearing the brunt of apathy of the government department.

The entrepreneurs are equally responsible for negligence as there is no system available for management of tonnes of solid waste generated daily and treatment of hundreds of cusecs chemical-laden toxic industrial sewage that flows into the watercourses without any check besides the industrial emissions.

“We pay several taxes to the tune of billions of rupees to different departments every month and it is the duty of the government to ensure disposal of solid and liquid waste in an environment-friendly way,” said Malik Ashiq, chairman of Hattar Industrialists Association.

He said that the industrialists were always held responsible for industrial pollution, but the government departments were never asked why they had failed to provide these facilities to them despite collection of taxes.

However he said that the industrialists of Hattar were ready to extend their cooperation to the government departments in this regard.

When contacted for his comments, Shoaib Malik, an environmentalist and training coordinator of the environment department, said that the KP Economic Zones Development and Management Company (EZDMC) had no solid waste management plan due to which tonnes of solid waste generated from over 250 operational industrial units was being dumped on the roadside or near watercourses, which was later set on fire as a short-term solution.

According to Mr Malik, the company, industrialists and truck drivers were responsible for the open dumping and burning of solid waste who had been served with notices and warned of action under the environmental laws. He said that the estate had no landfill site and recycling plant though waste generated from the industrial units could help earn EZDMC millions annually.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2020