The Department of the Environment (DoE) has lowered the status of the harmful shipbreaking industry in Chattogram from red to orange, under pressure from ship recycling yard owners, in a development that is expected to cause serious damage to the ecology of the region.
Ship recycling is considered the most environmentally friendly and economical way to dispose of end-of-life ships.
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But the ships themselves contain hazardous materials in their structure such as asbestos, heavy metals, mineral oil, bilge and ballast water, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, mud oil. and organotin, which, if not disposed of properly, is hazardous to humans and the environment.
Until the 1970s, ships were mainly dismantled in Europe and the United States. As social and environmental protection laws tightened in these parts of the world, the industry has moved to areas where legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms are weak, namely developing countries. .
Each year, around 800 ships reach end of life and need to be dismantled and recycled, and around 70% of them end up on the beaches of Alang in India, Chattogram in Bangladesh and Gadani in Pakistan.
Shipyards offer much higher prices for scrap metal by outsourcing costs to the environment, workers and local communities in the absence of weak labor and environmental management laws.
The High Court, in a 2009 judgment, ordered authorities not to allow any vessel to enter the territory of Bangladesh without a pre-cleaning certificate which will ensure that the vessels are cleaned of their trash.
But a 2010 World Bank study found the presence of lead, chromium, cadmium, mercury, asbestos, heavy metals in the soil of the Sitakunda coastal belt where ships are broken.
The study estimated that 79,000 tonnes of asbestos, 240,000 tonnes of PCBs, 19,78,000 tonnes of liquid organic waste, 775 tonnes of inorganic waste and 210,000 tonnes of ozone-depleting substances would be deposited in the soil, the waters of the Sitakunda coastline. belt from 2010 to 2030.
Now, with the downgrading of status by the DoE on October 10, the industry has more leeway to pollute the environment.
When an industry is classified as red, it has the highest obligation to comply with environmental guidelines.
It requires industry to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) describing the industry’s impact on soil, water, air and human health.
The EIA is the most difficult part of environmental compliance as it highlights the potential pollution scenario and an overview of the mitigation measures against the pollution scenario.
Industries classified in the Amber Category – which include factories that manufacture sports equipment, agricultural equipment, combs, bread, and cookies – do not require any EIAs, according to the Environmental Conservation Regulations 1997, which means that owners of demolition sites no longer have to take stock of their company’s impact on the environment.
The shipbreaking industry in India and Pakistan is still classified in red.
Contacted Mofidul Alam, DoE’s Chattogram (region) director, told the Daily Star that the change in status would help them provide prompt service to shipyard owners.
“Homeowners would now enjoy hassle-free services. But we have to be careful in issuing permits in accordance with the Environmental Conservation Act,” he said without further details.
In accordance with the Environmental Conservation Rules-1997, the DoE headquarters reserves the right to issue an authorization for an industry classified as red. Authorization and clearance for the establishment of industry in the orange class can be obtained from the regional office of the DoE.
The change surprised experts who raised questions about the department’s intention to enforce environmental laws at shipbreaking yards.
“There is no way DoE can change the status of the industry – no country in the world that is breaking ships has done that,” said Syeda Rizwana Hasan, managing director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association.
Abdullah Al Mamun, vice president of the Bangladesh Shipbreakers and Recyclers Association, said they have been looking for change for a long time and finally got it.
Rafiqul Islam Chowdhury, the former director general of the DoE who died in April, had rejected the proposal given the intensity of pollution in the industry.
“Now we will be able to get hassle-free service from DoE. Previously, it took a long time to get authorization as well as a plethora of documents,” Mamun said.
Shipbreaking yard owners are now focusing more on compliance to reduce accidents and pollution.
Md Ashraf Uddin, Director General of DoE, could not be reached by phone for his comment as he was in Glasgow attending COP-26.