Containing toxic industrial waste

Wasi Ahmed   | Tuesday, 24 August 2021

When it comes to effluent-treatment plant (ETP), it is the Savar leather estate that first comes to mind -- for the wrong reasons, though. In fact, it is the failure of the authorities for long to dispose of mountains of toxic waste through what were supposed to be a well-functioning ETP in the leather estate that has made the term familiar to even those who are not conversant with the processes of scientific waste-disposal method. The leather estate makes frequent news stories as the faulty waste-disposal method is keeping overseas buyers away, drastically affecting the country's leather export, despite relocation and some systematic measures by a number of entrepreneurs in the estate. Needless to say, lack of internationally recognised waste-disposal system by means of ETP is a serious lapse as regards fulfilling procurement norms of major leather-importing countries.

Since leather is a major export sector with high potential of  becoming the country's next growth driver, it draws media attention for obvious reasons. For the same reason, we sometimes come across scathing reports on the lack of required facilitation from the authorities. But what about dozens of other waste-generating factories that keep committing the foul play right under the nose of the authorities?

A news report recently published in a local daily says there are as many as 50 factories, that too in government's industrial estates, which are run without ETPs. The result is what it should be -- strong stinking smell in the neighbourhoods round the year, water bodies including rivers polluted by reckless release of liquid and solid waste. Inhaling the foul stench of waste day in and day out without any recourse to relieve the choked lungs is unthinkable.

Setting up ETPs in industrial units that emit chemical waste is mandatory. It is not just a promise or a verbal agreement but one that has to be done by the industry owners, and the functioning monitored by the sponsoring authority of the industrial estates. But, as things are now, this important aspect appears to have received little attention. Allocation of land and utility services for the units are no doubt primary jobs of official sponsors like the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) under which these industrial estates and parks operate. But ensuring proper waste disposal is no less an important task, and it appears from the state of things that both the entrepreneurs and the BSCIC are yet to prioritise it as integral to setting up industrial units. This is evident from reports that  neither the BSCIC nor the Department of Environment (DoE) is up for any remedial measure to address the health and environmental hazards posed by industrial units operating without  mandatory ETPs in the industrial estates.

According to BISCIC sources, it is because of a lack of authority on the part of BISCIC to penalise offending units that has led the situation this far. In Dhaka division alone, there are around two dozen units without any proper waste-disposal system-- not to speak of ETPs. In Chottogram division, too, the number of such units is well over a dozen. From reports published in the newspapers, it appears that many of the industrial units raise the issue of a lack of funds for installing ETPs. True as that may be, observers do not consider this a good enough reason to skirt around the subject, as ETP is crucial to the setting up of industrial units that release chemical waste.

Many of the units in BISCIC estates produce goods that are either already exported or have potential for export. Exporting may be difficult, even impossible, if the scale of production increases to the extent of drawing attention of major international buyers. Currently, some of the exporting units are in a position to export in small volumes flouting environmental and procurement protocols of importing countries, but with the increase in productivity and market demand, the issue of compliance is sure to figure as a deterrent if the scenario remains the same as of now.

Not just for export, the reason these units need ETPs is to contain the harmful effects on environment. We have seen extremely ruinous impact of the Hazaribagh tannery hub on the Buriganga river until it got relocated to Savar, but following the shifting, it is now the Dhaleshwary river that is under threat of heavy pollution from liquid toxic waste generated by the leather units there. All these are the fallout from the absence of proper waste management, or, in other words, the apathy of the authorities concerned.

Evidently, it is the sheer lack of understanding of the multifaceted implications of industrial waste management that has made things worse. The department of environment (DoE) and BISCIC cannot shed their responsibilities and must come up with effective solutions to the problem as early as possible.     


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