Islamabad Residents’ health at risk due to air, water pollution

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Noor Aftab
Elimination of the buffer zone between the industrial and residential areas in sectors I-9 and I-10 has increased the risk of health hazards for the residents, who can become direct victims of unending air and water pollution by industrial units.

In Islamabad’s master plan prepared by a Greek firm — Doxiadis Associates — in 1960, the Industrial Area (sectors I-9 and I-10) was isolated from residential areas through a buffer zone. But now residential areas have developed very close to it due to the buffer zone’s elimination by the Capital Development Authority (CDA).

The Industrial Area, spread over 625 acres of land, was established in 1963 and it provided scores of employment opportunities for people living in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

According to a survey conducted by ‘The News’, there are seven kinds of factories operating in the Industrial Area. They include steel melting units, re-rolling mills, flourmills, oil and ghee industries, marble cutting and polishing units, pharmaceutical firms and metalworking and engineering units.

Out of the seven steel melting units, only a few managed to acquire the anti-pollution equipment, which have now become partially non-operational due to lack of proper maintenance and other problems. The remaining units have been operating continuously without observing any safety measures to minimise the risk of air and water pollution. These units are producing metal dust, slag and gaseous emissions besides discharging untreated effluent in the main drain that eventually falls into River Soan.

In the eleven re-rolling mills, the shortage of gas supply in the current winter season has led to the use of furnace oil that is causing huge emissions of smoke from furnaces.

There are 25 flourmills in the Industrial Area that also lack proper system to filter or vet the flour dust that is usually thrown out in the open air.

In the 31 marble units, the wastewater carries a large amount of marble powder that settles at the bottom of drain channels. The marble sledge in tanks is removed on a periodical basis and dumped in the vicinity of units after which it dries in the sun and its particles also spread in the air.

Air emissions, including nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide, are being emitted by oil and ghee units, which are also producing wastewater pollutants, including grease, soaps and suspended solids.

Various surveys previously conducted by private and state-run agencies showed that air and water pollution is increasing day by day, posing a grave threat to the health of the local people.

Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) Director Dr. Zia-ul-Islam told ‘The News’ that a high-level meeting, recently chaired by the environment minister, has given a six-week timeframe to the CDA to come up with proposals to find out a permanent solution to the air and water pollution in the Industrial Area. He said that a working group, comprising representatives from various relevant departments, has also been constituted which would submit its recommendations after thoroughly reviewing the level of pollution in the Industrial Area and its adverse effects on the local population.

Dr. Zia-ul-Islam said that a comprehensive survey on adverse environmental effects of industrial units in these sectors was carried out some years back and a number of measures were taken in the light of its findings. “Hopefully, we would evolve an effective strategy in the coming weeks to cope with the issue of pollution in the Industrial Area in coordination with all stakeholders,” he said.

A senior CDA official, when contacted by ‘The News,’ said that a proposal to shift all industrial units, currently operating in sectors I-9 and I-10, to the upcoming sector of I-17 is being discussed at the highest level. “We will likely float this proposal in the next meeting with Pak-EPA officials, but there are also some other aspects that need a detailed review of the situation,” he said. He added that if these industrial units continue to operate in the area, it would be hard to tackle the issue of pollution, therefore, it might be a better option to relocate them on the outskirts of Islamabad.

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