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Issue 24
April , 2010
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Suparna Dutta
Source: From the Editor's Desk, Date: April , 2010

Those of us who search for excitement and controversy whenever they read a piece of news had their plates full last week. The scintillation was bigger than all murder and mayhem added together in Agatha Christie novels.

First, there was scary tales from West Delhi’s Mayapuri scrap market about scrap dealers who kept large consignments of (now we know) of Cobalt 60 and developed symptoms of radioactive poisoning. One of the, Deepak Jain, seems is the worst affected and is battling for his life. The symptoms of radioactive poisoning include skin reactions, peelings, discolouring, low platelet counts, nausea, diarrhoea, bleeding in stool, nose etc. In the long term, such poisoning can result in breakdown of nervous system, infections gastronomical system, suppressed immunity, bone marrow depression etc. Death is also not ruled out. Even if the affected person survives he and his family incurs heavy medical expenditures. Although almost a week now, the conditions are not back to normal. According to the monitoring agencies there still are other sources of radioactive radiation in the market. According to the investigative teams the source of these wastes might not be from within the city or even country; this might just be another instance of India being used as a dumpyard for hazardous wastes. With hardly any mechanism in place for trailing back the source, it is doubtful if ever we would come to know the truth.

The other fire broke out at Delhi’s Mundka plastic scrapyard. The type of waste that is dumped and processed in Mundka market mostly include rubber and plastic material such as water pipes, plastic-coated wire gauze, footwear, utensils, plastic wrapping material, toys, car seats etc.

Apart from the aspects of public safety there are obvious environmental concerns. Waste recycling is a vocation for a large chunk of population in India. A World Bank estimate states that over 1 per cent of the population in a big city in the developed world comprises waste recyclers. In India this sector is largely informal and employs about 15 lakh people with waste pickers at the bottom and reprocessors at the top. This huge workforce operates out of inadequate spaces and in far from hygienic or scientifically approved conditions that adversely affect their health. There is certainly a master plan but that reeks of poor understanding of the entire scrap dealing. The Delhi Master Plan 2010 tries to “enable” waste trade by allocating recycling space but at the same time bans scrap shops that deals with anything but glass and paper!

However, scrap market is not the only source of toxic material from entering our lives and harming us. The entire toy market in India is full of toxic toys that cater to hundreds of Indian children. The health impacts resulting from ingestion of the toxic chemicals in these toys can be fatal and even irreversible. In Delhi as in other parts of country there are flourishing but dingy markets that sell mercury openly there being no Governmental control over its free trade in India. For that matter, the Environment Protection Act 1986 does not even mention the word “radiation.”

A bright spot here and there in the form of mass campaigns against lead in paints might have nade both the manufacturers and policy makers shift uncomfortably in their chairs. But for the large part we are very much at the mercy of God!