Over 30 teams of firefighters and navy choppers continue to fight dense smoke that has engulfed a solid waste management plant in Kerala’s Kochi. The fire was put out on the second day, but the area remains enveloped by thick smoke for over a week now.
The 100-acre garbage dump yard has been emitting toxic fumes for 9 days straight. Continuing residual fires in two sectors of the garbage dump are the reason for the toxic fume spread. While bulldozers scoop out layers of garbage, firefighters relentlessly spray water to douse it.
At a women’s hostel 1.5 km away from the dumpyard, engineering students Anjali and Naurin said the stench has been a 24×7 nightmare. “It was choking. We slept with a mask on,” said Anjali. “My parents are worried. They want me home. I am leaving tomorrow,” Naurin added.
Vian, an engineering student studying at a college near the dumping ground, has returned to his hometown Thrissur in Kerala. “It was like a blanket of smoke. We couldn’t breathe,” he told NDTV from there.
Experts are unsure of the long-term repercussions of the situation. Doctors and health experts have said that the carcinogenic fumes can go on to cause cancer, kidney ailments, infertility and lung disease.
Dr Rajesh V, a senior consultant at Rajagiri Hospital, said “This could also affect the brain. It could slow down one’s thinking process besides causing cancer.”
The toxic fumes have crossed a 15 km radius from Brahmapuram and are now affecting residents of Kochi city as well.
Nipu Cherian, a resident of Kochi’s IT hub Kakkanad, feared that many people in Kochi may face serious health issues in the long term due to the toxic smoke. Donna, his wife, has moved to Wayanad, about 250 km away, to escape the fumes of burning plastic, rubber and metal.
Susha Saju Thomas, a teacher, is concerned about the impact this may have on agriculture. The water pumped to douse the smouldering garbage, including plastic, will find its way into the ground and the adjoining river. “The toxic wastes going underground will impact the crops and the food we eat. It’s scary,” she said.
Although nine days have passed since the fire, the government is yet to release scientific data on the toxicity levels. So far, the state government has only issued an advisory asking residents to wear a mask and stay indoors.
Kerala Industries Minister P Rajeev told NDTV, “No serious cases have been reported yet. The health department is studying the health impact. This dumping ground is under the local bodies and self-government department. Whoever is responsible for this will be held accountable.”
District collector N S K Umesh said, “We are confident of dousing the fire completely by Sunday. The air quality index, which has dropped from 400 to 112, will further improve and come down to the range of 50 soon.”
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