Brick kilns set up in the Chittagong University (CU) area are causing immense damage public health and biodiversity of the campus, famous for its pristine natural beauty.
About 15 brick kilns have been operating in the nearby areas of the institution. These kilns use conventional wood fuel to burn clay and red mud bricks, polluting the environment and spreading harmful smoke and ashes over the surroundings.
These plants – some of them located within 200 yards of CU – were set up in direct defiance of the Environmental Act 1995 that prohibits the construction of kilns within three kilometres of any educational institution, hill or residential area.
Three kilns were set up near the building of the Institution of Forestry and Environmental Science, CU (IFESCU).
This correspondent recently visited several brick kilns including Sher-e-Bangla Brick Field, Ambia Brick Field, Shahinur Brick Field, Hazi Brick Field, Rail Crossing Brick Field and Madonhat Brick Field, and saw mounds of wood piled there.
The wood, apparently collected from the nearby reserve forests, is used to burn the bricks made from topsoil, also collected from adjoining areas in violation of the Brick Burning Act (2001).
A recent research study conducted by Dr Md Danesh Miah, an associate professor at the IFESCU, showed that the brick kilns have been causing air pollution at an alarming rate.
The research said these kilns produce six kinds of gases: carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, nitrous dioxide, nitric oxide and methane. The gases along with Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) have negative health effects.
Each brick, the study showed, uses 317.42 tonnes of firewood on an average, and a total of 3809.04 tonnes of dry matter, mainly wood, are used for burning bricks.
“Large numbers of trees are being chopped down to collect about 1416.20 cubic metres of firewood for the brick kilns. The firewood comes mainly from 13 species of trees in and around the campus,” the study said.
Dr Danesh said every year, the kilns release 828.62 tonnes of carbon dioxide, 31.64 tonnes of carbon monoxide, 0.90 tonnes of nitric oxide, 3.62 tonnes of methane gas and 225.99 tonnes of carbon.
“They also produce aromatic hydro carbons, which are considered the main cause of lung cancer.”
Although the government has asked owners to construct kilns of heights exceeding 120 feet, or zig-zag chimneys, and to use coal to burn bricks, most of them continue to use traditional chimneys emitting smoke that goes directly over the campus and nearby villages.
Gazi Syad Ahamed Asmat of the zoology department at CU said the pollution has had a negative effect on the breeding a number of animal species and has created a topsoil crisis, affecting agricultural production in the region.
“Allowing these brick kilns to continue would mean allowing pollution to continue to have negative effects on agriculture, the environment and the forest reserves,” he said.
Jafar Alam, deputy director of the Chittagong Directorate of Environment (DoE), said kiln owners had been asked to change their conventional methods of brick making and burning, and set up 120-feet zig-zag chimneys by June 30.
“Once the deadline is over, we will launch drives against those found to be in non-compliance of the directive,” he said.