Brick kilns major source of air pollution in South Asia

Contribute 10% to the total air pollution in south Delhi, 11% in Patna, 30% in Dhaka

By Jitendra
Published: Thursday 12 March 2015

Brick kilns in Ashulia, a northern suburb of Dhaka (Photo courtesy Flickr)

A study claims that brick kilns near south Delhi contribute around 10 per cent of the total air pollution in the area. The fuels used in the brick kilns—agri-wastes, powder coals and used tyres—can also be linked to 15 per cent of the total premature deaths due to air pollution in the area. 

Sarath Kumar Guttikunda, founder-director of Goa-based non-profit Urban Emission, presented the study at the annual conference of the Centre for Science and Environment. The three-day event, themed “The poor in climate change”, started in Delhi on March 11.

Guttikunda’s study on particulate pollution and the health impacts of emissions from brick kiln clusters also covers other cities in South Asia. He says these kilns are behind 30 per cent of the total air pollution in Dhaka and 11 per cent of the total air pollution in Patna.

The study cites Global Burden of Disease report that says outdoor air pollution was the reason for 627,000 premature deaths in India in 2010. “The share of brick kilns in national emissions can be 5 per cent to 15 per cent,” says Guttikunda.

Ellan Baum, executive director of US-based Climate and Health Research Network, backs Guttikunda’s claim, saying brick kilns in South Asia are based on obsolete technologies and release huge amounts of pollutants.

Baum conducted a study on 13 brick kilns in India and Vietnam in 2011-12. “If the technology can be improved, then air pollution can be reduced,” says Baum. According to Baum, emissions would be reduced by 70 per cent if the brick kilns were modernised.

“Traditional brick kiln technologies like FCBTK (fixed chimney bull trench kiln) emit high amounts of black carbon. There is need to transition from traditional kiln technologies to modern ones such as VSBK (vertical shaft brick kilns) or tunnel kilns,” she suggests.

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