Photo via cogdogblog via Flickr CC
In Mundaka, an area west of Delhi, India, the largest plastics scrap market in Asia was set on fire. The entire area, about 4 kilometers, burned and goods worth Rs 50 crore were lost to the flames. The fire appears to have been set deliberately, potentially a response to the debates occurring between scrap dealers and villagers who wanted the market moved to another location. However, there is going to be days worth of chemical-laden smoke and many health consequences to deal with before the bickering can commence again. According to Times of India, "Police said the fire was possibly started by a group of people who reportedly entered the area around 2.20am, beat up two security guards and fled on motorcycles."
The biggest issue facing residents now is not whether the plastics scrap market will stay, but the quality of the air.
The paper reports that it wasn't just plastics that burned, but also several tons of hazardous e-waste, from televisions to photocopying machines.
Burning e-waste means releasing toxic chemicals into the air, causing respiratory problems and skin diseases. This is one of the reasons why unregulated e-waste dumps are such a concern. Now, residents living close to the scrap yard could be exposed to these chemicals and their related health problems, including bronchitis and asthma, heart and liver damage, and eye damage.
The burning of this scrap market brings attention to the problems of dumping e-waste, especially when disaster or - potentially in this case - arson occur.
''We get all kinds of e-waste, be it computers or photocopy machines. In fact, the plastic received from dismantling of ewaste such as computers and mobile handsets sell for Rs 30/kg more as against the common plastic waste like broken jars and buckets,'' said a scrap shop owner. He said that the dealers in this market receive waste material from across the country. ''After dismantling the waste material and sorting it out, we send it to recycling plants,'' he added. Significantly, the shopkeepers here do not follow any fire safety norms.
E-waste in India is expected to rise 500% by 2020, and is expected to rise at similar rates in other developing countries, thanks to the developed world's over-enthusiasm about new gadgets.
Water, being a serious issue in India, is also highlighted here, since a lack of it caused fire officials to have to depend on a nearby DMRC station to fill tanks. There were some 30 separate smaller fires battled simultaneously. And now local doctors will probably be seeing an influx of ill patients.
Whether or not the fire was set purposefully is yet to be determined, but it is worth noting that locals are not happy about the presence of the market in their community.
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