Untreated sugar mills wastes posing health hazards in DI Khan

Rizwan Mehsud & Iftikhar Khan

DERA ISMAIL KHAN: With the start of the crushing season, the pollution level is set to cross the safe level in areas adjacent to four sugar mills in Dera Ismail Khan as none of the mills abides the environmental laws to ensure a standard effluent treatment.

The ashes being released in the air contain suspended particulate matters (SPM) which is the major cause of pollution, a major contributor to the deteriorating environmental standard of the city and the main reason behind several respiratory diseases.

The settlers around the mills also complained that they have been exposed to hazardous chemicals liquid that is being disposed of in the city’s water channels on daily basis during the crushing season. The hazardous chemical riddled water ultimately mixes up with the irrigation water and river creating a worst environmental degradation and health complications.

According to research conducted on sewage released from sugar mills, it contains sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid and other such poisons gases. Photo by author.

There are four sugar mills in DI Khan district, Al-Moez, Chashma 1, Chashma 2 and Meran Sugar mills, which as per the government’s record, have the annual sugar production of 4 million tons mainly from sugarcane crop that is produced in this district.

Under the law, it’s essential for the industries to install effluent treatment plants and filtrations to prevent discharge of dangerous chemicals into sewerage lines.

“We are exposed to hazardous air and poisoned water being released from the sugar industries. They have poisoned the air, it is even difficult to breath,” Hebat Khan, a settler around the mill told TNN.“Mills have installed the air filtrations plants, but they are non-functional,” he said.

The hazardous chemical riddled water ultimately mixes up with the irrigation water creating environmental degradation and health complications

He alleged that steps so far taken are insufficient to counter environmental degradation. Hebat Khan alleged that the industry has not only polluted the air but even the underground water has been contaminated due to the continuing discharge of hazardous chemicals. Hebat Khan revealed that since the mills have been constructed; the locals are compelled to drink unhygienic water that resulted in the spread of several diseases including Hepatitis, appendix and different skin diseases.

Dr Farooq Gul, a district health official, has also confirmed Khan’s claim and believes that the rate of cancer, kidney diseases and skin diseases is high among the people living in near the sugar mills.

In 2014, 10 persons were killed when jumped in the canal of Cheshma Sugar Mill to rescue a child who accidentally fell into the canal. Seven others were injured. The report compiled after the tragedy confirmed that it was due to hazardous chemicals in canals due to which they couldn’t a safe return from the canals. “To pacify the locals, the mills have promised of providing job to a member of each victim family, but now they’ve backtracked from the promise,” Abubakar, a local, who has saw the tragedy unfolded in front of his eyes, told TNN.

A view Chisma sugar mill in DI Khan.

According to research conducted on sewage released from sugar mills, it contains sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid and other such poisons gases. However, the general manager of Chashma 1 Sugar Mill, Mirza Nadeem while talking with TNN refuted all those claims that piousness gases are being released into air and water channels.

“We have purchased affluent plants worth millions to fulfil our environmental responsibilities,” said Nadeem. He added that they need maximum water during the crushing seasons and the water released is being reused within the mill.

However, Dr Bashir Khan, head of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told the TNN that during the inspection, they have found the DI Khan mills of violating environmental laws and released poisonous water into canals. He added that the environment tribunal has charged of the mills while two cases are still underway in the tribunal. Bashir Khan made it clear that from time to time, the EPA is taking samples from the water and testing it labs in Peshawar. Dr Bashir Khan said that there is no doubt that all the mills have installed the effluent treatment plants and due to various reasons, it is not possible for them to keep it always in operation.

However, Hebat Khan said that the owners of the mills are much powerful and aren’t afraid of the government departments and so far not proper legal action was taken against them despite grave violation of the law. The mill owners have also warned that the locals that if they dared to lodge a protest, the mills will stop purchasing their sugarcane crop. “Those people who could afford have shifted to safe areas, while those who are depended on the agriculture lands are still facing the hazardous environmental,” Khan lamented.