KARACHI, March 2: The Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (SITE) which is spread over a vast area of land in the western part of the city does not have a proper mechanism for the collection and disposal of hazardous waste generated in hundreds of manufacturing units in the area everyday and as such most industries dump their toxic liquid and solid waste in an unauthorized manner, in clear disregard of environmental requirements and laws, Dawn has learnt.
According to a report submitted to a high judicial forum by the environment and alternative energy department of the Sindh government, industries and factories of various types operating in the designated area are allowing the mixing of untreated hazardous waste in significant quantities with the non-hazardous industrial solid and domestic waste which in turn is making the entire waste hazardous. Not the entire hazardous and non-hazardous waste of over 180 tonnes being generated on a daily basis is handled efficiently in line with the environmental laws of the country, it has been learnt.
In the absence of any approved scientific system of collection, transfer and dumping at any official site, a considerable amount of waste is largely disposed of on open plots, land depressions, open nullahs within the SITE area limit or on plots outside the area.
The official report mentioned that in March 2006, a factory in the SITE area allegedly dumped hazardous chemical waste on a vacant plot in its vicinity, which subsequently led to several serious and minor injuries to some children living in the surrounding areas.
Over a period of three months, a total of 20 such cases had been recorded wherein mainly children from the adjoining residential areas were seriously injured after coming into contact with hazardous industrial waste. Of the injured children, one died in April 2006 from burns while another badly injured boy lost his both legs which had to be amputated.
Analytical reports of the hazardous sample later showed the presence of compounds like phosphorous pentoxide, aromatic and vinyl alcohols, magnesium hydroxide, aluminium silicate, and calci um sulphate. Some of the chemicals are classified as dangerous and toxic chemicals.
The environment department survey report has said that the waste in SITE is disposed of without any treatment except the recyclable separation by scavengers.
Crude open dumping is the most common practice throughout SITE as dump sites are commonly set on fire to reduce the volume of accumulating waste, hence adding to air pollution caused by the uncovered dumped waste itself.
Home to about 3,000 small, medium and large manufacturing factories of diversified nature, including textile, spinning and weaving, beverages, chemical, food, leather, paper, pharmaceutical, wood and wood fibre, soap and detergent, paints and varnishes, edible oils, automobile vending, cable, and conductor manufacturing, the area badly needs an integrated and well-equipped system to handle both the solid waste and liquid effluents.
A conservationist said that hundreds of units were discharging their untreated effluents comprising heavy metals and compounds.
“This untreated effluents go directly into the bodies of water leading to the sea as there is no combined waste treatment plant anywhere in SITE,” the conservationist added.
Surveys and studies have established that marine environment around Karachi has become highly toxic, harming aquatic flora and fauna. Soil at vegetable farms along the Lyari River has also become tainted with zinc and copper deposits. “Such slackness on the part of the industrialists and their governing institutions, despite the fact that the estate was established in 1947 on the specific condition that factory effluents will be treated according to the Factories Act of 1934, calls for making the industrialists comply with the country’s environmental laws,” another environmentalist said.
He said that about 10 per cent of industrial effluents found their way into government-run domestic sewerage treatment plants, while the industrialists who allowed their waste to be dumped in public sewers could be held accountable for such acts.
A source in the provincial environmental watchdog said the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency about one and a half year ago had issued show-cause notices to 60 industries of SITE, asking them to clarify their position regarding their failure to meet the safe environmental standards.
A source in the agency said that a number of owners and executives of some industries, despite their unwillingness, also appeared before the then director-general of Sepa to plead their cases in line with the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (Pepa), 1997.
However, things did not go beyond some initial meetings as some of the industrialists who could influence top officials in the government managed to get the exercise by Sepa to curb pollution and unsafe operations of industries halted, the sources said, claiming that Sepa was asked not to “haunt and offend the industries anymore”.
When contacted, managing director of SITE Manzoor Ahmed Kanasro agreed that the problem of solid waste management and safe discharge of effluent existed in the area and said that environment-friendly measures were needed to be applied as per the spirit of the SITE charter right from the beginning of the industries in the city.
However, things continued deteriorating as there was not a well-defined uplift plan or any vigilance system or concept of penalties, Mr Kanasro said, adding that now the government in the cases of other industrial estates was enforcing laws for safe industrial practices.
“We want to make the industries in SITE have their own treatment plants in their factories so that liquid waste could be treated before they discharge it into the municipal rain drains, but many of the industries make excuses saying that they have a space problem or they cannot meet any extra cost,” he said.
Referring to the solid waste disposal, the SITE MD said that a tender had already been floated for the management of the waste through a private party and if things went in the right direction industrialists would be given an integrated plan of solid waste dumping, collection and transportation.
The private party would also be asked to utilise the waste in the power plant which would be established and would generate about 50 megawatts of electricity soon, he said, adding that an agreement would be reached for the power plant soon.
Speaking about liquid waste disposal, Mr Kanasro said that the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) was working on a plan for the development of a combined effluent plant to handle the effluent of SITE.
SITE may be linked with the treatment plant either through a dedicated line leading to the plant or making the industries discharge the effluents as per some prescribed guidelines so that the industrial liquid waste could be thrown into the KWSB existing lines and municipal system which would be finally linked to the treatment plant proposed to be built in an area close to SITE, he further said.
The director-general of SEPA, Naeem A. Mughal, said that many a time industries in SITE had been approached by Sepa for rectification of the environmental problems but all efforts were so far in vain.
“Now we are determined to resolve the longstanding problem and to go for prosecution as well, if needed, as there has been enormous pressure on Sepa in this regard,” he said, adding that every single industry should organize the cleanup work as it was its responsibility to care for the environment and to ensure that the damage was mitigated.
He said that the solid waste management in SITE needed a collective effort by all stakeholders, including SITE, SITE Association, industries, municipal services department of the city government, town administration concerned, to have a suitable infrastructure to address the issue of solid waste and waste water disposal, instead of shifting the responsibilities to the contractors or anybody else.
“We are giving strength to our (Sepa) enforcement of environmental laws and will not further hesitate in taking legal action against any quarter responsible for pollution and environmental degradation,” he concluded