In March, a fire at the Deonar dumping ground in Mumbai had raged on for days and sparked serious concern among residents of nearby localities. However, in spite of a somewhat similar situation in the capital — where small fires have been breaking out in various corners of the massive landfill site in Ghazipur — both authorities and residents seem to be unperturbed.
Every day, almost 2,800 metric tonnes of garbage is dumped at the site, which has been covered in smoke for the last few days. The garbage is generated in east Delhi, home to over 40 lakh people.
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But the fire and smoke is a routine matter, according to the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC). “Decomposing garbage produces methane gas, which is combustible. It catches fire when it comes in contact with air. It is not a raging fire, just smoke,” said EDMC’s chief engineer P K Khandelwal.
However, he admitted that before the garbage reaches the landfill, it is not treated in any way. Khandelwal added that the Ghazipur waste-to-energy plant, which is in trial phase, would help “minimise damage caused by the landfill”.
The residents, meanwhile, have learnt to live with both the smoke and the stench emanating from the landfill.
“Through the year, the site is a constant source of diseases including dengue, malaria, typhoid and respiratory problems,” said Tarannum, a resident of Rajbir colony, located right opposite the landfill site. But moving to another area is not an option for Tarannum.
“I have to live here because rents are cheaper than the rest of the city,” she said.
Another resident seemingly unperturbed by the fires is Dharampal, who has a small tea shop outside the gates of the landfill. “I have been here since the landfill was set up in 1984. Fires break out all the time and the residents have stopped complaining,” he said.
This time, however, sporadic fires have been blazing at the landfill for the last 10 days, according to scientists from the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC).
“When the huge pile of waste degenerates, it releases a lot of by-products. Methane is one of the gases released and it can spark spontaneous fires. Due to the large amount of waste there, such spontaneous fires spread very easily and they are difficult to control,” said one of them.
The committee had carried out an environmental impact assessment of the site in 2008 and pointed out the potential hazards of such fires.
The site is also one of many factors that make nearby Anand Vihar — where a DPCC monitoring station is located — one of the most polluted areas in the city. “Though Anand Vihar has multiple sources of pollution, including a bus depot and the industries near Ghaziabad, the Ghazipur landfill site is one of the prominent sources of pollutants for the station,” said the DPCC scientist.
In the last week, the monitoring station has found that particulate matter (PM) levels have ranged between 200-250 micrograms per cubic metre, even in the afternoons. The pollutant levels rose to nearly 400 micrograms per cubic metre in the evenings. “PM levels are usually not so high due to the high temperatures this month,” said the scientist.
In spite of the smoke, none of the truck drivers ferrying the garbage to the site or sanitation workers on duty there wear masks. The rag pickers who dig through the garbage, looking for items that can be sold off, don’t wear masks either.
As she separated bottles at the top of an almost 40-metre high pile of waste, Lata, a rag-picker, said, “I try not to bring my children here. As far as I am concerned, whatever could have damaged my system, has probably done so already”.