Sanitation workers with bamboo-brooms and kerosene cans roaming around the city and burning garbage heaps at street corners is a regular scene at nights in Thrissur these days.
As garbage removal to Lalur, where the city corporation’s garbage disposal site is located, has been blocked for more than a year due to local people’s opposition, the corporation has opted for the burning of garbage on streets, as an easy solution.
In the past, city residents, unable to stand the stench of rotten garbage, used to burn it occasionally, now the city corporation itself has made it an almost acceptable way of garbage treatment.
Experts, however, warn that the process will create serious environmental and health hazards.
“When garbage is burned in heaps it often leads to production of carbon monoxide along with carbon dioxide,” says environmentalist and retired professor K.R. Janardhanan.
“Carbon monoxide is a product of incomplete combustion of organic matter due to insufficient oxygen supply. Carbon monoxide mainly causes health problems by combining with haemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin in the blood. This prevents oxygen binding to haemoglobin, reducing the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood.”
Burning of plastics and PVC produces many toxic fumes, including dioxin, which causes cancer, Prof. Janardhanan said.
Dr. K.G. Radhakrishnan of the Department of Anaesthesia at Thrissur Government Medical College says that inhalation of the fumes emanating from the burning garbage dumps will cause serious respiratory ailments.
“Continuous exposure to the fumes from burning plastics may cause diseases including chemical pneumonia and bronchospasm, sudden constriction of the muscles in the walls of the bronchioles,” he said. “Children and elderly people are more vulnerable.”
Many city residents complain of nausea and vomiting as the burning of organic matter produces sulphur gases, which has pungent smell.
“My son refuses to have breakfast before going to school because of nausea and a tendency for vomiting in the morning,” says Rajalakshmi Menon, a worried mother living at Punkunnam in the city. She suspects the impact of the open burning of garbage in her neighbourhood for her son’s ailment.
Environmentalists want the corporation to find an alternative to the open burning of garbage. They contend that the authorities should not evade their responsibility of garbage management by burning it in every street corner.
“A civilised society should have a scientific system garbage management,” says Dr. Radhakrishnan.