THE Bangladesh government could finally relocate the tanneries industry from the heart of Dhaka to its outskirts. The objective of the relocation of tanneries to the Leather Industry Estate at Savar was to stop further pollution of the River Buriganga, the ecological life line of the capital city. The River Dhaleswari at Savar, a distributary of the Buriganga, is now being polluted as factory managements there keep disposing chromium mixed untreated effluents in the river. The river and the areas surrounding the estate are polluted by at least 20,000 cubic metres of untreated effluents and an unknown quantity of solid wastes from 111 relocated tanneries every day. The Chinese contractor Jiangsu Lingzhi Environmental Protection Co responsible for building and maintaining the central effluent treatment plant is blamed for not having installed a chrome separation unit. The Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation, meanwhile, allowed tanners to dump solid waste in the locality. The problem of river pollution is relocated, it seems, and not resolved.
An expert team from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology that works as consultant to the leather estate said that the Chinese contractors who built the CETP were not using required chemicals for which untreated effluents were being released into the river. The BUET team raised concern that the CETP facility has not controlled the release of chromium into the river. Uncontrolled exposure to carcinogenic chromium could lead to lung cancer in humans. In a recent test of the water quality, the team found 7.48 micrograms/millilitre chromium where more than two was harmful. Local people have also complained about the unbearable stench from the water of the pond in which tanners dump the chemically contaminated waste. In the absence of a concrete solid waste management system, as New Age in May, tannery owners illegally sell toxic waste to poultry and fish feed mills which then get recycled into toxic poultry feed. Public health experts alerted repeatedly that the consumption of poultry meat under these circumstances could cause serious harm to people’s health. Considering the way tanneries are run, risking public health and violating environmental regulations, the BSCIC cannot brushed aside its responsibility.
The failure to manage and recycle the toxic waste of the tanneries at Savar undoubtedly defeated the purpose of the relocation. The government must immediately take the Chinese company to task to ensure that the CETP has its chemical treatment unit. It must also take steps to ensure that the BSCIC implements the toxic solid waste management system so that such wastes are not dumped in nearby water bodies or empty lands. Otherwise, the history of severe river pollution and consequent public health problems will be repeated at Savar.