Many are apprehensive of developing health complications

Fire does not surprise residents of localities around the Ariyamangalam garbage dump yard. Mischief-mongers and rag-pickets set fire to mounds of garbage. But so far, such fires were put out in a matter of hours. This time, however, the blaze was unprecedented as it erupted at two spots in the dump simultaneously.

According to Tiruchirapalli City Corporation officials, the winds whipped up thick clouds of smoke leading to dense smog.

Fire-fighters faced a challenge in advancing into the dump yard for fighting the raging flames. The burnt parts of the garbage was churned and doused with water as a safety measure. Thanks to the rain for two days, the crisis could be overcome. Smoke still keeps emerging here and there on the massive accumulation of garbage estimated to be around 10 lakh tonnes.

The fear now among residents is the health complications they had been subjected to because of exposure to harmful smoke for four or five days continuously. Residents are complaining about sore throats, irritation in the eyes, and lungs.

“There was no way I could escape from the smoke. It was all pervasive, causing continuous breathing problems,” said Ramachandran, a senior citizen living in the nearby apartment.

According to environmental experts, smoke from the garbage emits dioxin, affecting people with sensitive respiratory systems.

Corporation Commissioner V.P. Dhandapani said that medical camps have been planned in the neighbourhood. The corporation is prepared to establish a relief centre for evacuating the residents in vulnerable localities, but they were not inclined, he said.

The residents are hopeful that the attention that the fire has drawn will result in a lasting solution to the groundwater pollution. According to a trader, the groundwater in the area was not fit for even bathing and washing clothes. “The water causes skin sores.”

The garbage must be evacuated from the spot, Murali, a resident of Ambikapuram, said. The corporation must consider the option of shifting the garbage from the over 40-acre dump yard to Thuvakudi and fill up abandoned stone quarries, he said and urged the civic body to consider the dump yard for construction of the proposed integrated bus stand.

However, the corporation authorities are not impressed by the idea. There will be cracks in the bottom of the stone quarries through which the groundwater would be polluted if the garbage is shifted. The quarries could be utilised for filling only after an impervious layering is made at the bottom. It was not feasible, officials said.

The least that the public expect from the authorities was putting an effective management system in place. “We strongly believe that the fires are man-made. The entire dump yard must be brought under electronic surveillance,” Mr. Murali said.