Toxic fumes from the massive fire at Brahmapuram dump yard have engulfed Kochi for more than three days now, bringing the normal functioning of the city to a standstill.
Why did a cloud of smoke envelop Kochi? A fire broke out at Kochi Corporation’s solid waste treatment plant at Brahmapuram on Thursday, 2 March. The smoke from the burning plastic spread to a radius of more than 10 km, causing breathing difficulties among people and reduced visibility on the roads.
The massive hill of garbage and plastic waste which was burning for around three days despite the efforts of state and central government agencies to extinguish it, was finally put out on Sunday, 5 March.
As a precautionary measure, district collector Renu Raj had announced a holiday for educational institutions on Monday, 6 March. However, according to reports, public examinations will not be postponed.
How was the fire controlled? Apart from state fire and rescue teams, firefighting units of BPCL, FACT, the Navy and the Cochin Port Trust were deployed to douse the fire. Advanced light helicopters with a Large Area of Aerial Liquid Dispersion Equipment (LAALDE) were used to spray over 5,000 litres of water in the active fire zones, which helped bring the fire under control. Huge pumps were brought from the nearby district of Alappuzha to pump water from the nearby Kadambrayar river to kill the flames.
However, the incident has aggravated the pollution in the city and the air quality recorded an alarming 900 micrograms per cubic metre, a senior revenue official said. The data from the Kerala Pollution Control Board website said the PM 2.5 and PM 10 particulate levels (particulate matter refers to tiny particles or droplets in the air that are two and a half microns or less in width) in the air in Kochi were way above the prescribed standards.
"The fire is under control now. The government will help the city corporation in clearing the legacy waste and take effective measures to check such incidents,”P Rajeev, Industries Minister
How is Kochi coping? On Sunday, 5 March, people in Kochi and suburban areas were advised to remain indoors considering the deteriorating air quality. Many residents who complained of breathlessness and some with respiratory tract infections have been shifted to houses of their relatives.
Health Minister Veena George advised those living in affected areas to use an N-95 mask if they step out for an emergency.
"Oxygen parlours near dump yards and a smoke casualty wing has been set up at the Government Medical College in Kochi. 100 beds have been set aside at the district general hospital to meet any eventuality."Veena George, Health Minister
Even in the past, fire had broken out in the dump yard several times in the past few years. But this is the first time its pollution has been felt in and around the city. The Kerala Pollution Control Board had imposed a fine of ₹1.8 crore last year on the corporation and issued an ultimatum for bio-mining but official apathy allegedly delayed clearing of the mount that gradually increased, said officials quoted above.