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The perils that generators cause

  • Published at 02:43 am May 24th, 2019
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Generators are a must-have during summer, the season of sweltering heat and frequent power outages, but they also heavily contribute to noise and air pollution Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

“Generators or any kind of motor that runs by diesel pollutes the air which can produce tiny particulates which can cause life threatening diseases”

Elizabeth D Costa, a resident of Monipuripara in the capital woke up with thick black smoke inside her room with a smell of burning, on March 23, to find that her elder sister and mother were closing all the windows.

As she was abroad the previous year, and came home a month after the Chawkbazar fire tragedy, she feared a fire breakout. The smoke was coming from a building next door which happens to be Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Novo Theatre’s control room for generator and central air conditioning. The exhaust chimney of the building directly faces the balcony of her house within a distance of five to seven feet.

Seeking attention to the matter, Elizabeth wrote on her Facebook: “We all know Novo Theatre is the national planetarium in Bangladesh. But every morning when they start their shows there is heavy toxic smoke … Residents who are living beside this have been heavily suffering from the black smoke every day since last year … We are suffering and we need authorities to become attentive on this.”

Dhaka Tribune responded to her call for help and this correspondent made a visit and found the matter to be true. The walls of the houses closest to that chimney had accumulated a light black layer of soot.

Her elder sister, Sumi Mary Perera, told Dhaka Tribune: “It has been going on for a long time. When they [Novo Theatre authority] start the generator, there is deafening noise for at least for half and emission of heavy smoke. Since its chimney faces us and is very close to our balcony and windows, the entire house fills up with that toxic smoke. During that time, it becomes difficult for us to breathe. We immediately close all windows but that does not help. It feels like that their machine has some problem and can explode any day which might kill us all,” explained Sumi.

Talking to a caretaker of another building, he said that they are also affected by the smoke.

Pointing to the building in question, he said: “That is the Novo Theatre’s generator room. Maybe they use bad quality diesel which produces the heavy black smoke with a bad smell,” said Nur Nobi.

The Assistant Curator of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Novo Theatre Shahidul Islam said that the residents should file an application to the authority to investigate the matter.

“We have an engineer for regular maintenance. On the other hand, Public Works Department (PWD) takes care of such matters. If they [the residents] file an application to Novo Theatre authority, we will investigate the matter. In fact, we do not want our neighbors to suffer because of us. Based on their application, we can take necessary measures,” he said, acknowledging that the chimney is part of the problem.

Rise in particulate matter

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) based in Delhi found in a study last year that the levels of dangerous particulate matter — PM2.5 and PM10 — rises by 30% to 100% in localities where diesel generator sets are operated.

Environment activist Dr Lelin Chowdhury said: “Generators or any kind of motor that runs by diesel pollutes the air which can produce tiny particulates which can cause life threatening diseases.”

Dhaka ranked second in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) air pollution index last year and Bangladesh is the seventh vulnerable country to be affected by climate change, while a World Bank report,  states that 15,000 people are killed annually due to air pollution. Among the top 10 causes of deaths in Bangladesh, five are: lung cancer (13%), lower respiratory tract infections (7%), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (7%), ischemic heart disease (6%), and stroke (5%) – all related to air pollution.

According to the National Institute of Diseases of Chest and Hospital (NIDCH), nearly seven million people in Bangladesh suffer from asthma – over half of them children.

Emphasizing on what can be done to control air pollution, Poribesh Bachao Andolon (Poba) Chairman Abu Naser Khan said that sources of air pollution must be found to decrease its impact on people.

“We have to fix our target after finding the sources of air pollution, anything that runs by fossil fuels has the potential to cause air pollution. It would be great if we could decrease the use of fossil fuels or use good quality fuels so that pollution decreases,” said Abu Naser.

He also said that the matter should be brought under scrutiny to shed light on its impact on urban areas.