The killer factories of Goth Ali Mohammad – 01 Feb 2023

They contain polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), high levels of heavy metals

Katriyon aur galiyon, muhallon ke naam

Jinki napaak khashaak se chand raaton

Ko aa-aa ke karta hai aksar vuzu

— Faiz Ahmad Faiz

The moon no longer performs vuzu in the dusty narrow streets of Goth Ali Mohammad — a small village located about two miles from the main Hub River Road in District Keamari, Karachi. Goth Ali Mohammad, forcibly and illegally occupied by greedy unscrupulous merchants of death, has now become a large open cauldron, emitting poisonous smoke and deathly particulate matters. Loaded with flammable oils, caustic chemicals and hazardous materials, 30-40 illegal factories have sprung up next to every other house, empty piece of land and every street, nook and corner of Goth Ali Mohammad. Trucks loaded with waste plastic, tankers full of chemicals and hundreds of drums filled with discarded engine oil arrive each day to conduct their unethical, illegal and deathly business. They block the already narrow streets of the goth, making it impossible for the residents and vehicles to move about. Even the funeral of a minor, one of the 19 persons who died of the poisonous gases, had to wait for hours, before the burial procession could proceed.

What is common between the 2012 Baldia factory (260 deaths), the 2021 Mehran Town Korangi fire (16 deaths) and the January 2023 Goth Ali Mohammad incident (19 deaths)? All three major disasters occurred because: a) The factories were operating illegally; b) They had not been approved or registered with the Labour Department; c) They had not been approved by the Building Control Authority; d) They had never been visited by a Labour Inspector; e) They had never been registered or visited by Sindh Environment Protection Department; f) They had never been visited by Civil Defence or Fire Brigade Department; g) They were never registered with EOBI or SESSI; h) They had no system for Health and Safety; i) Not a single person was punished for negligence, commission, corruption or complicity in any of these disasters; and j) Not a single lesson was learnt nor a single reform was implemented after any of the three industrial disasters.

Goth Ali Mohammad, a quiet residential suburb of about 200 houses, is infiltrated by 30 to 40 illegal factories that are environmentally destructive and highly hazardous to human health. A number of these makeshift set-ups produce grease by crude methods of boiling and stirring used engine oil (UEO) and thickeners in open cauldrons at high temperatures. UEOs are a very dangerous polluting product. They contain polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and high levels of heavy metals, well known for their high carcinogenicity. The environment degradation occurs due to disposal of UEO, burning, land filling, accidental spillages, and seepage into surface or ground water. This degradation poses a threat to humans and other living organisms.

A number of other factories are engaged in recycling waste plastics by melting them at high temperatures. The burning of wasted plastic releases toxic gases like dioxins, furans, mercury, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) into the atmosphere and poses a serious threat to human and animal health. Phthalates, the very chemicals that give plastic their desirable qualities, are endocrine disruptors, associated with a plethora of health problems, from neonatal impacts on babies to allergies, rashes and asthma.

We are trapped in a system of government organisations that are not just inept, unprofessional, unethical and archaic, but also unwilling to learn or reform. It is impossible in today’s age for so many factories to spring up in a small village, begin spewing poisonous fumes, toxic chemicals, blocking streets, killing residents and remain unnoticed and unchecked. The Heads of Labour, Environment, Building Control and other delinquent organisations ought to be held accountable for the murder of 19 innocent lives. Each and every factory in the residential areas of the goth ought to be shut down and dismantled. Only then the moon and the angels may return to perform vuzu in the narrow dusty streets of the grief-stricken Goth of Ali Mohammad.

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