A fire in the landfill of North Lakhimpur Municipality Board (NLMB) in North Lakhimpur town has left local residents of a wide area choking in the past one week.
The garbage dumping ground, located on the bank of Somdiri river in Ward No. 14 of North Lakhimpur, where the NLMB regularly dumps solid wastes, caught fire on February 16 allegedly set on by some miscreants.
The fire and smoke, mixed with pungent smell has formed a thick smog in the area affecting people living in nearby areas with eye irritations, sore throat and burning sensations on nostrils, pausing a threat to public health which is returning to normalcy following COVID19 pandemic.
The landfill, which has been used by NLMB by flaunting the Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules, 2016, is located on a stretch of land on the right hand side of Somdiri river parallel on a public road that separates the North Lakhimpur Hindu Crematorium in Pub-Chanmari area under Ward No. 14.
The landfill is close to residential settlements with a dense population on the either side of the river that always struggle for the dirt and pollution emanating out from this municipal waste dumping ground.
The disturbances caused by the fire compelled the local residents to lodge complaints to the NLMB with no result.
As complained by locals, the NLMB refused to address the issue asking the complainants to contact the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB).
North Lakhimpur does not have an SPCB Regional office.
“We lodged a complaint to NLMB, but they said it was under the prerogative of SPCB,” said a local from Chaporigaon in Ward No 13.
The Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM), 2016, notified by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has asked the local bodies to improve the existing landfill sites which are in use for more than five years as sanitary landfills specified in Schedule I.
It also specifies that the landfill site shall be 100 meter away from river, 200 meter from a pond, 200 meter from highways, habitations, public parks and water supply wells.
The NLMB landfill in Ward No. 14 does not meet all these criterion of SWMR-2016. Apart from these encroachment has also taken place on that landfill with huts are coming up taking advantage of an inept municipal authority and local administration.
Apart from the violation of existing laws of SWM, the landfill burning with low temperature and smouldering conditions promote the formation of air pollutants including polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans, collectively called “dioxins”, fine particulate matter and PAHs.
Garbage dumped in landfills is often mixed waste –with paper, plastic containers, bottles, cans and at times electronic goods.
Moreover when it accumulates with decomposable wastes from food, dead animals, construction debris and even industrial waste then it is definitely a serious health concern, say experts.
According to Dr Hemant Purohit of National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) burning even small amounts of plastic and rubber releases chemicals that are unsafe and open burning is an inefficient combustion process that releases significant amounts of air pollutants and ash, and dense white or black smoke.
The smoke may include aldehydes, acids, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins, furans, other organics and volatilised heavy metals.
The health hazards of such landfill fire could be very serious as the ash from the waste may be contaminated with toxic chemicals such as dioxins and furans, PAHs, heavy metals and other potentially carcinogenic compounds.
Some of the ash is carried off into the atmosphere with the smoke plume while the rest remain behind after the fire is extinguished. It also affects the air quality and pollutants like particulate matter PM 10 and PM 2.5 remain suspended in the air.
Inhaling PM 2.5 (very fine particles) are even more dangerous than PM 10 as they directly enter the lungs.
“There is a cardio patient close to the landfill who has been now exposed to the fume,” said a resident of Pub-Chanmari.
“We are using face masks much more than the Covid-19 lockdown,” informed another local.
Studies have revealed that it is the urban poor that suffer most from the life-threatening conditions deriving from deficient SWM.
The area close to the NLMB landfill is inhabited mostly by urban poor in Pub Chanmari, Shantipara and Chaporigaon exposed to the solid wastes of various kinds and a polluted river. Earlier reports of tuberculosis were high among the populations in Chaporigaon in Ward No. 13.
Though the cause of fire to this landfill is attributed to miscreants, experts say that such sites generate highly combustible methane. Its emission leads to spontaneous fire and cause massive burning of garbage and highly toxic emissions.