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Despite absence of big factories and construction projects, Elephant Road has turned into the most polluted area of the capital city.

A study by the Center for Atmospheric Pollution Studies (CAPS) under the Stamford University Bangladesh explains the reason.

Published on 20 March, the study states that open incineration of urban waste intensifies pollution in the Elephant Road air.

The fact was found evident in a recent spot visit across Elephant Road, New Market, Kataban and Dhaka Medical College residential areas on 21 March.

This correspondent spotted open burning of garbage and rising black smoke at least at seven points in the areas.

Abdul Matin, who runs a scrap metal shop at the Old Elephant Road, expressed his grief. “Cleaners of the city corporations pile up waste and burn this in the open. For 12 years I have been seeing this in regular basis,” he said.

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Mahmudul Hassan lives at the same area. He told Prothom Alo, “When the cleaners burn the waste at night, we cannot open our windows in in the hot weather. It is suffocating.”

The CAPS study states that air pollution across the Elephant Road area increased by 83 per cent in 2020 compared to the previous year. The study found 458 micrograms of particulates in each cubic metre (μg/m3) of the Elephant Road air. The permissible level of the hazardous pollutant is 65μg/m3.

Fresh air in Dhaka is rare as the city ranks among the top polluted areas in the world. Even on 28 March evening, Dhaka was ranked the 2nd highest polluted city, according to Air Visual’s air quality index.

Professor Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder, director at CAPS, told Prothom Alo, “Like open pitting as well as dumping construction materials on the roadside, allowing unfit vehicles and such, open burning of waste becomes an additional cause of air pollution in Dhaka.”

According to two city corporations of Dhaka, the city generates around 5,500 tonnes of waste every day. A lion share of the waste is dumped at roadside open places.

There are allegations that city cleaners during their night shift gather trash and dirt from the roadside and burn this openly. This is a common practice all around the city.

The CAPS study identifies 23 spots– 13 fully or mixed residential areas–in Dhaka city where urban waste is burnt openly.

People related to waste management in Dhaka say that most of the city cleaners burn garbage openly to avoid loading the garbage trucks. Secondly, they burn the leftover waste when the piles of garbage exceeds the vehicles’ capacity. Thirdly, they have to do it because of non-availability of garbage trucks.

A cleaner, who has been working for the Dhaka City Corporation for 30 years, admits these facts.

However, Dhaka South City Corporation’s chief waste management officer and air commodore Md Badrul Amin says, “The cleaners should not burn waste openly. We will take action as per specific complaint against the offender.”

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There are allegations that cleaners under the city corporations hardly sweep the alleys. Most of the narrow roads are swept by private initiatives. Incineration of waste is also common in the localities.

Air quality experts say that plastics make up the major portion of urban waste. Plastic burning releases toxic chemicals like dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl into the air. When plastic burns, at least six toxic gases including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide are generated.

Chest disease specialist Asif Mujtaba Mahmud, who is also the secretary general of Bangladesh Lung Foundation, tells Prothom Alo that the smoke from burning waste leads to cardiovascular as well neurological diseases. “The toxic components of the smoke also affect children’s lungs badly. As a long-term impact, smoke from burning waste causes lung cancer,” Asif warned.

* This column appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Sadiqur Rahman

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