Industrial waste causes havoc in Karachi

Pakistan feels the heat of toxicity

Published: Thursday 15 June 2006

Complex: Bad chemistry is spre one child died and another had his leg amputated after exposure to toxic industrial waste dumped on a plot in Karachi, Pakistan. Two other children also sustained serious burn injuries in the incident that occurred in March.

The plot is located in Abidabad in Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (site). Following the incident, the Sindh Environment Protection Agency (sepa) lodged an fir at the site police station -- the only industrial waste dumping related complain lodged in Pakistan so far.

According to Abidabad's residents, children used to play on the vacant plot heaped-up with different types of waste. Since the last two months, they suffered burn injuries; but on March 12 some of them yelled in pain while playing on the plot. The people nearby took them to local hospitals. Later, the children were referred to the National Institute of Child Health (nich) in Karachi . While Iftikhar, who had sustained over 60 per cent burns, succumbed to the injuries on April 28; Shiraz's health continues to be critical.

"Both Iftikhar and Shiraz had sustained around 60 to 65 per cent burns on their body with deep burns in feet, legs and hands," says Afroz Ramzan, director, nich. " Shiraz's both feet had to be amputated; we are now arranging artificial limbs for him," he adds. Two other children -- Naveed and Gul Siddiq -- are also critical and are undergoing treatment at nich.

Toxic fallout Meanwhile, samples collected from the site were sent to the Industrial Analytical Centre at Hussein Ibrahim Jamal Research Institute of Chemistry, University of Karachi for examination. They were found to contain some highly toxic chemical compounds that are banned for industrial processes: phosphorus pentoxide, aromatic and vinyl alcohols, magnesium hydroxide, aluminium silicate and calcium sulphate (see table: Toxins in samples).

Environmental groups say the incident could have been avoided had the government agencies responsible for checking pollution and dumping of hazardous waste, been doing their job properly.

But according to sepa, it's the other way round. "None of the factories cooperate with the government on issues of environment assessment programme, which is required before setting up a factory," says Iqbal Saeed Khan, director general of sepa. " The assessment is to be made every few years."

Following the incident, sepa and the government have sprung into action. The government has passed strict orders regarding the environmental audit of factories. "All the factories which do not abide by environmental laws as mentioned in the Pakistan Environment Protection Act 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17, will be fined Rs 300,000," mentions the order. "In fact the government has the right to seal the factory that refuses to conform accordingly," says Saeed.

The toxic industrial dump, however, continues to lie on the plot. The only change is that a policeman has been posted there and Sindh's industrial minister has promised a probe and cancellation of the lease of the plot.

Following sepa's complaints, Sindh police had arrested Farooq Garib, owner of the Garib Sons Chipboard Unit, for allegedly dumping the toxic chemical waste on the plot. sepa had subsequently sealed the unit. But representatives of site de-sealed it the very next day. On May 8, Farooq was granted a bail on the claim that his unit did not produce chemicals that were identified at the dumping site. Further test results from the office of the chemical examiner of the Sindh government are awaited.

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