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Pondicherry’s Dumpsite in Kurumbapet: (a) Crime Scene, (b) Environmental Catastrophe, (c) Public Health Disaster, (d) Phenomenally Profitable Business, or (e) All of the Above

March 31, 2011

Yesterday, while I shot photos at the Kurumbapet dumpsite in Pondicherry, a man called out to me. “We can barely breathe,” the veterinary professor shouted over the wall that surrounds the campus of the Rajiv Gandhi Veterinary College, 10 meters downwind from the garbage dump. “Ever since they created the dump, we are suffering terribly.”

Here’s the reason for his lament:

scavengers hunt for valuable waste

scavengers hunt for recyclable waste while smoke blows over the veterinary college

dense smoke from the dump drifts toward the Rajiv Gandhi veterinary college

dense smoke from the dump drifts toward the Rajiv Gandhi Veterinary College

The dump has transformed the college campus into a gas chamber. Every day, the garbage of Pondicherry’s one million residents is dumped in the 25-acre Kurumbapet dumpyard. As organic matter in the waste decomposes, it generates heat and highly flammable methane gas. The gas combusts, igniting other materials: paper, plastics, rubber, cloth. The waste then smolders in a low-temperature fire, producing massive amounts of smoke, and generating persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including dioxins, furans and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which rank among the most hazardous substances known to man. Such toxins are consumed by and accumulate in wildlife and livestock at the site. Livestock, such as cows, pigs and chickens, then transfer the toxins to humans through eggs , meat and milk. Human breast milk tested at dumpsites in Chennai and Kolkata has been found to be alarmingly contaminated by such toxins, increasing infants’ risk of cancer and many other illnesses. Unfortunately, the most alarming research reports are not freely available on the internet.

despite a 12-foot high wall around the dump, many children are inside

despite a 12-foot high wall around the dump, many children are inside

Summarizing the findings of three decades of research on POPs in India by scientists at Ehime University, Japan, Dr. Annamalai Subramanian and Dr. Shinsuke Tanabe write, “The levels of many of the persistent toxic chemicals in the Indian environment, food stuff, wildlife and human are one among the highest in the world . . . . This is certainly high time for the government and related agencies to take a serious look on the matter and take urgent necessary steps. The data available on the Indian Persistent Organic Pollutants pollution scenario shows need for every concern.”

a boy in Kurumbapet garbage dump

a boy in Kurumbapet garbage dump

Research by Community Environmental Monitoring found a cocktail of toxic chemicals in air samples collected from open dumpsites in Chennai. And studies of groundwater around open dumpsites in India have found pollution by heavy metals and other dangerous contaminants.

The situation raises several questions:

What were Pondicherry’s authorities thinking when they decided to create another massive open dumpsite? The site violates several provisions of the government’s garbage management regulations, namely, the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 (MSW Rules). The rules prohibit the open dumping and  uncontrolled burning of mixed waste. In other words, the dumping and burning of mixed waste are punishable offenses.

Why does Pondicherry’s Pollution Control Board permit this massive environmental catastrophe? Why has the PCB not shut down the site?

Why has a sanitary landfill not been constructed? The 19-year contract between Pondicherry and Puducherry Municipal Services Private Limited (PMSPL), a joint venture between the Bangalore-based private firm, Kivar Environ, and Puducherry Urban Development Agency, stipulates that PMSPL will build and operate a sanitary landfill, as required by the MSW Rules. The contract pays PMSPL to construct a sanitary landfill, but Kurumbapet is an unsanitary open dump.

a PMSPL compactor defecating

a PMSPL compactor defecating at Kurumbapet dump

PMSPL compactor empties itself before another shift

PMSPL compactor empties itself before another shift

a PMSPL compactor gives something back to Mother Nature

a PMSPL compactor gives something back to Mother Nature

After visiting the Kurumbapet dumpsite, I checked another crime scene, the open dump beside the truck stop at Mettupalayam. There I found cows and dogs rummaging through black, red, yellow and green plastic bags. Colored plastic bags immediately tell me one thing: hospital waste. A medical facility has meticulously sorted its waste, but the firm that the facility hired for disposal has illegally dumped the waste in the open. Half-burned bloody bandages, latex gloves, I.V. bottles and tubing, vials, syringes and all sorts of other medical detritus was scattered over the landscape.

mixed medical waste dumped in the open in Pondicherry

mixed medical waste dumped in the open in Pondicherry

i.v. bottles and assorted other medical waste dumped in public in Pondicherry

i.v. bottles and assorted other medical waste dumped in public in Pondicherry

medical waste illegally discarded in Pondicherry

medical waste illegally discarded in Pondicherry

bovine-friendly dumpster diving -- cows rummage through illegally discarded hospital waste in Pondicherry

cows rummage through illegally discarded hospital waste in Pondicherry

Again, this is a crime and a public health disaster.

Is Puducherry’s Pollution Control Committee permanently on vacation?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. J.Rajasekaran permalink
    April 1, 2011 6:36 am

    This is worse than a nuclear disaster.We are all responsible for this. A movement should be started to deal with this uncontrolled dumping of waste.Bringing in the School children and the local colleges to take part in this fight is important.May be some responsible NGOs without political affinity are also welcome.

    • Brooks Anderson permalink*
      April 1, 2011 10:10 am

      Hi Sekar,

      Thanks for visiting the site and commenting. The disaster underway in Kurumbapet is absolutely horrifying. Most disturbing is the fact that Pondy’s authorities located the dump 10 meters from the Rajiv Gandhi Veterinary College. Everyone around the site is suffering unimaginably. It is scandalous and disgraceful that the Puducherry Pollution Control Committee lets this catastrophe continue. The situation is a massive crime, but nobody is putting a stop to it.

      Brooks

  2. Snigdha permalink
    April 18, 2011 3:07 am

    God, this is frightening. I can’t believe that there are children walking through all that. Has the local press covered any of this?

  3. May 25, 2011 3:25 pm

    This is a part of India that tourists like myself only experience peripherally. The reality is shocking and your photos capture that well. I especially like the figures of the children lost in the smoldering hills of garbage.

    • Brooks Anderson permalink*
      May 26, 2011 2:48 am

      Bjorn,

      Thanks much for your comment. The situation at such sites is indeed heartbreaking.

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