arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh/India

Toxic fumes from brick kilns a threat to health

Emission of huge quantity of toxic elements from brick kilns is causing serious health hazards, experts at a seminar said yesterday. The brick kilns emit toxic fumes containing suspended particulate matters rich in carbon particles and high concentration of carbon monoxides and oxides of sulphur (SOx) that are harmful to eye, lungs and throat.

These air pollutants stunt the mental and physical growth of children, the experts said at the seminar on 'Brick fields and its ill effect on environment. They also expressed concern over the growing number of brick fields, saying that the toxic fumes also affects crops and plants in the areas adjacent to brick fields. The Legislative Support Service Project of Manabik Shahajya Sangstha (MSS) organised the seminar in the city in association with the European Commission. Parliament Members Begum Raushan Ershad, Prof. Shahidul Islam, Muhammad Shahiduzzaman, Faruk Khan and GM Kader took part in the seminar.

According to the keynote paper, the primary source of Sox -- the major pollutants in the air -- is traffic vehicles (55.8%), followed by brick manufacturing industry (28.8%). And the primary source of NOx (nitrogen oxides) pollutants is also traffic vehicle (54.5%) and brick manufacturing industry (8.8%). About 8000 brick fields were set up in the country without any clear environmental guidelines, resulting in loss of fertility in agricultural lands, the experts said. Also, nearly 25 to 26 per cent of the country's wood production are used for burning bricks every year, causing deforestation, they said. Describing the laws concerning brick kilns as inconsistent, Shahidul Islam called for formulating new laws after a discussion with the experts and stake holders to curb environmental pollution.

Indiscriminate burning of firewood in brick field kilns

The unauthorised brick fields in different parts of Patuakhali district are using firewood for burning bricks. The coastal forests including Gongamoti are being deforested posing threat to the environment as well as ecological balance. According to the government rule the owners of brick fields are to pay lincence fee, VAT and land development tax at commercial rate, but the government is being deprived of such taxes due to unauthorised manufacturing of bricks.

The use of fire-woods in kilns of bricks fields is prohibited as per brick burning control ordinance of 1992 and the owners would be puneshed for violating the law. The brick field owners of the dis­trict have been burning bricks with firewoods. As a result a large number of trees like keora, 'chaila', sundari, mehgini, bain etc are be­ing felled indiscriminately in the district. The dishonest brick field own­ers collect the fire woods from dif­ferent forests with the help of their agents. Local people told the Bangladesh Observer that the dis­trict task force remained silent. Some told me on condition of anonymity that the concerning administration frequently takes money from brick field owners.

While visiting some bricks fields at Kalapara, Golachipa, Bauphal, Patuakhali Sadar. I found fire woods being used for burning bricks instead of coal. It may be mentioned here that Bipul Howlader, a farmer commis­sioner and owner of a brick field of Kalapara, set up his brick field near Kalapara poura town and used firewood instead of coal by violating government rule, it is alleged (The Bangladesh Observer, December 21, 2004).

Spewing out eco time bomb Raising chimney heights of brick kilns fails to stop grave air pollution

Bricks are made for building. But the country's brick kilns are churning out the basic ingredients for construction in a way that is doing more harm than good. The government recently ordered the brick kiln owners to raise their chimneys to a height of 120 feet in a move to limit the kilns destructive pollution emissions. But on a visit to a village in Gazipur, where brick kilns have sprung up like mushrooms, this correspondent found that the ministry of Environment and Forest's 2003 directive had done little to help improve the environment. "I cannot cultivate any vegetables here anymore where the air is so polluted. Last year I sowed some pumpkin seeds in my yard but could not produce a single one," said Jobed Ali, a farmer of Katka village of Gazipur where hundreds of brick kilns are located. He even said that the greenery has disappeared from his village because of the harmful emissions from the kilns.

"If you go round our village you'll hardly find a coconut hanging from a coconut tree." This is the time of the year when mangos start to take shape but villagers like Aminul Islam and Nur Islam alleged that they had not tasted a mango for the last couple of years. "I have sowed mustard seeds. But everything seems to have turned black with the smoke coming out from those nearby brick kilns," said Aminul. The picture was the same in Islampur, Kalapur, Bomail, Bason, Naojor, Aambaag, Baigga villages of Gazipur.

It is not only crops that are being affected by the tons of smoke coming out of the chimneys. Experts now say that brick kilns are emitting harmful 'particulate matters' (pm) into the air, which are responsible for the alarming rise of respiratory ailments. According to available statistics, more than four thousand brick kilns are operating in and around the capital. They are mainly based in Gabtali, Savar, Ashuliya, Keraniganj, Narshingdi, Gazipur and Manikganj, Department of Environment (DoE) sources said. The alarming figure suggests that city dwellers and inhabitants of surrounding areas are breathing more sulphur than oxygen. But the DoE seemed to be happy focusing their attention on bricks and mortars. Some even claimed a small success with the imposition of the height restrictions.

"Obviously damage has been reduced with most owners now using high chimneys," said Md. Reazuddin, technical director of the DoE. He admitted, however, that the way bricks are being manufactured in the country is not at all environment-friendly "No developed countries bake bricks in kilns. Rather they use concrete blocks. But we have neither the technology nor the expertise for the mass production of concrete blocks," Reazuddin said. There also seems to be a lack of proper monitoring of whether the brick kiln owners are obeying the Brick Kiln Control (amended) Act (2001), which prohibits the establishment of brick kilns within a three-kilometer radius of human inhabitation as well as fruit garden. The law remains only a piece of paper as brick kilns are even operating less than one kilometre of a densely populated area. Making matters worse, the brick kilns owners are flouting the existing laws of using only coal or gas to keep their furnaces burning, it is alleged, with some using worn tyres and plastic materials as a cheap form of fuel. Most shocking of all is the indiscriminate use of wood.

The department of environment sources said that the four thousand brick kilns burn nearly 20 lakh tons of coal and another 20 lakh tons of wood every year to meet the demand for 400 to 1200 tons of fuel. "Yes, some brick kiln owners use wood and even tyres as fuel," admitted an owner from Gazipur. But at the same time he said: "Nobody can deny the necessity of bricks for the country's development." He was more critical, however, of the loopholes in present laws. "Tell me where in Dhaka or elsewhere you won't find a home within one kilometre, forgetting about the three-kilometre restriction? " he said. Picture:Dark billows of smoke spiral skyward from chimneys of brick kilns in Aminbazar yesterday, spelling grave environmental hazards (P. Roy, Daily Star, March 7, 2004).

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