Peshawar’s Brick Kilns Poisoning the Environment

QAISAR KHAN

PESHAWAR: The lush green farms of Sarband area in the outskirts of Peshawar provides a soothing effect from the din of city life. Hardly a few kilometres away from the horns of vehicles and dust of Bus Rapid Transit construction sites, one finds himself in a land surrounded by farms with vegetation and flowers.

But despite all this greenery and a perfect image of village life, the commuters inhale air filled with black smoke emitting from the chimneys of Brick Kilns dotted around the area. The Brick Kilns in Sarband area can be seen parted just by 200 to 300 meters away, spread from roadsides and farms to the centre of residential areas.

According to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) there are around 800 brick Kilns in the province out of which some 300 are in surrounding areas of Peshawar. To keep the production cost of bricks at lowest the kiln’s owners use low-quality coal, used oil, old rubber tires and plastic materials, which results in the emission of toxic fumes. The use of these materials with an inefficient combustion process ultimately brings the health of thousands living in the surrounding at stake.

kiln’s owners use low-quality coal which results in the emission of toxic fumes.,
Brick kiln’s owners use low-quality coal which results in the emission of toxic fumes. Photo: Qaisar Khan.

“The whole city provides us with enough fuel to burn in this furnace,” said Zahir Gul a worker in a brick kiln in Sirband, while pointing towards the plastic and rubber waste in the kilns “We almost burn anything which can catch fire, from plastic bottles, old shoes to rubber tires”

To Gul there are many scrap dealers in the city, which collect these materials solely for them. Adding that they produce 40,000 bricks in a single day, for which they mostly use coal with plastic and rubber material as a fuel.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Environmental Protection Act 2014, restricts the burning of rubber and other unregulated fuels in the brick kilns by saying no person shall emit any air pollutant which is in excess of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Environmental Quality Standards.

According to the Climate & Clean Air Coalition, brick kilns are one of the main contributors of 20 % worldwide Black Carbon emission along with steel and iron industries. Adding that black carbon is a threat to the Himalayan region as when deposited on ice and snow it can speed up both melting rate and global warming. This emission can lead to the risk of glacial lake outburst, changes in rainfall and monsoon pattern, an ultimate threat to regional water and food security.

kiln’s owners use low-quality coal, used oil, old rubber tires and plastic materials, which results in the emission of toxic fumes.
kiln’s owners use old rubber tires and plastic materials, which results in the emission of toxic fumes. Photo: Qaisar Khan.

Dr Asif Khan, Assistant Professor at UET Peshawar says the old tires and other rubber materials burnt in brick kilns are the worst material in terms of emission of greenhouse gases.

“These gases can not only affect local but also regional climate by raising its temperature,” said Khan “The emission of greenhouse gases will ultimately result into damage of air quality, results into heat waves, smog, and other health-related issues”.

To Khan, even the burning of coal in the centuries-old technology of brick kilns emits carbon something we committed to curbing in Paris agreement. Khan said that with the introduction of new brick kiln technology can help reduce these emissions. At the same time, to minimize health hazards, brick kilns should be built on barren lands and away from the residential areas.

The brick workers are more prone to respiratory diseases according to a study of Agha Khan University Karachi, which says the most common symptoms among the workers were of Chronic Cough, Phlegm, shortness of breath, Chronic Bronchitis and Asthma.

“The normal range of Sulfur Dioxide is 80 PPM in the air, while its concentration is 27000 to 14000 PPM in brick kilns and surrounding areas,” says Professor Dr Mukhtiar Zaman, a Pulmonologist in Khyber Teaching Hospital. “This high concentration has an adverse effect on human, fruits and vegetation.”

Dr Zaman added that due to emission the brick kilns workers and people in surrounding areas get various diseases like narrowing down of lungs vesicles, premature ageing and eyes disease. He said that making clay for the bricks results into gastrointestinal diseases.

The emission from brick kilns has also an impact on vegetation; a study by a team of researchers traced visible foliar damage to fruit trees like Mango, apricot and plums in the suburb area of Peshawar. The study says the concentration of hydrogen fluoride in the air and foliar fluoride concentration were all greater in the surrounding of brick kilns, indicating fluoride emissions from brick kilns the main cause of damage.

Muhammad Irshad Chief Analyst Environmental Protection Agency while talking to Tribal News Network said, EPA is mainly focused to restrict the burning of rubber material in brick kilns, and so far more than 150 brick kilns owners are served with notices and fines. To Irshad, the district administration has also imposed section 144 on the burning of rubber material in brick kilns.

Pakistan produces around 46 billion bricks per year says a report of Climate and Health Research Network,  making it the second largest producer of bricks in South Asia after India. This large scale production of Bricks in the country consumed 41 per cent of the annual coal stock.

To improve the air quality standard in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the provincial Environmental Protection Agency is going to build a model Zigzag brick kiln in Peshawar. For which they proposed a Non-ADP project of 5 million rupees to the government, the model of this technology and facilitation of labour training will motivate brick kilns owners towards the conversion of their traditional setup.

The environmental commission has given a deadline to the brick kilns owners to convert their traditional Kilns to Zigzag Technology by December 2019.

EPA differentiate traditional and Zigzag technology with its air flow, in FCBTK air travels in a straight line and remain in the kiln for a shorter period, leaving less time for air to mix with fuel, resulting in incomplete combustion. However, in Zigzag kilns, the placement of bricks guides’ air flow to travels in a zigzag path, ultimately increasing air flow path length and turbulence in the air, which results in improved combustion, heat transfer rate, and uniform temperature.

To prevent air quality from further degradation, the Environmental Commission formulated by Supreme Court of Pakistan has given a deadline to the brick kilns owners to convert their traditional Fixed Chimney Bull’s Trench Kilns (FCBTK) to Zigzag Technology by December 2019. Threatening that in case of non-compliance the units will be shut down.

However, the brick kilns owners blame the government for not providing them due assistance in the said conversion “We are in full cooperation with EPA in terms of ban on rubber materials as a fuel in brick kilns” said Haji Aeen Khan, General Secretary Brick Kilns Association KP “Even we started self-regulation by setting a fine system in case of violation of law.”

Most of brick kilns are situation in residential area in Peshawar.
Most of the brick kilns are situated in the residential area of Peshawar  Photo: Qaisar Khan

To Aeen Khan the brick kilns owners are ready for the conversion of brick kilns technology, however, it cannot be done overnight. Adding that, the new technology needs skilled labour and capital which they lack.

“All industries in the country enjoy subsidies from the government, however, we are even unable to register our units in Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industries,” said Aeen Khan “the industry provides thousands of direct and indirect jobs, but still lacks basic facilities.”

According to Deputy Director Climate Change Cell, Environmental Protection Agency, Afsar Khan the black smoke emitted from brick kilns likely includes Sulfur Oxides, Nitrogen Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide and fine particulate matters which has serious health hazards for human, in addition to plants life destruction. To Khan, with adoption of Zigzag technology the pollutants emission will be reduced significantly in brick kilns, at the same time brick makers will get a chance to further their business to a next level, the new technology will not only reduce the coal consumption by 40 per cent but will also increase the production of good quality bricks from 70 to 90 per cent.