Toxic chemicals in quake debris threat to environment: Experts

Toxic chemicals in quake debris threat to environment: Experts

At a time when tons of debris from the recent earthquake awaits proper disposal, environmental experts have expressed serious concern over possible contamination of environment from hazardous wastes.

According to Santosh Shrestha, an environment expert at Solid Waste Management Technical Support Center (SWMTSC), which is under Ministry of Urban Development, the accumulated debris contain high amount of toxic wastes that are hazardous to all living organism, including human beings.

“When a house or a building collapses, along with construction materials like woods, bricks and stones, items with hazardous chemicals like battery, fridge, fertilizers and toilet products also get piled up, posing risks or contamination,” said Shrestha.

As per government’s assessment, over 7,50,000 houses and buildings have been damaged in the earthquake of April 25 and aftershocks. As per one study, nearly 18.850 million cubic meters of debris remain accumulated in various parts of 31 quake hit districts.

Immediately after the earthquake, a team of experts from Department of Environment (DoE) was deployed to study the damage.

The report states that volume of paint from damaged or destroyed houses could reach 2,007,732 liters.
“Paints, batteries, and medical instruments contain toxic chemicals like lead and mercury. These chemicals can be lethal. Therefore, the debris must be cleared as soon as possible,” said Shrestha.

A team of expert from SWMTSC was also deployed to study the status of debris.
As per the report, a total of 1,81,188 buildings have been damaged in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur districts. It states over 4 million tons of debris has been collected from the three districts so far.
According to Shrestha, 1,000 tons of solid wastes were collected from all three districts in one single day.
The report states that volume of paints from damaged houses and buildings in Kathmandu could reach 3.176 million liters and lead from the debris could be over 33 kilograms.

As for the remaining 11 districts, volume of paints could reach higher than 1.3 million liters and lead over 116 kilogram.

“A thermometer contains one gram of mercury, which is enough to ruin one acre of land. From this example we can make out how harmful these toxic chemicals are,” said Alka Sapkota, another environment expert at SWMTSC.

According to doctors, hazardous wastes like battery, dry-cell, mercury and lead can cause serious health problems like dermatitis, damage kidney and lungs and even damage brain and nervous systems.

However, the pace of removing the debris is far from satisfactory. Locals at various places have already begun disposing the debris of their demolished houses and buildings on their own.

“Before their disposal, the solid wastes should undergo segregation. During this process, the toxic waste is separated from other items that can be recycled and reused. If left unattended the toxic wastes not only affect human health but also hamper fertility of ground,” said Sapkota.

Source: Myrepublica