A crisis meeting chaired by Chief Secretary V.P. Joy has urged citizens to stay indoors and ordered hospitals to prepare for emergency admission of patients with respiratory distress as the three-day-old smouldering fire at the expansive garbage storage yard of the Brahmapuram solid waste treatment plant in Kochi fuelled intense public anxiety about the severe air pollution and its worrying public health fall-out.
The meeting, attended by Central government officials and chemical fire experts late Saturday, also expressed deep concern about the public health implications of the large-scale release of dioxins from the burning plastic into the atmosphere, overwhelming large swathes of the metro city and further exacerbating its relatively poor air quality index.
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For one, the government has advised non-essential establishments in Kochi, including shopping malls, to close for the day to keep people indoors.
The administration will likely extend the advisory to the coming weekdays if the garbage heap continues to smoulder.
It has counselled outdoor sports and walking enthusiasts to remain indoors.
The administration also closely monitored hospital admissions, especially those with respiratory trouble. It has asked hospitals to stock-upon medical oxygen and ensure sufficient beds in intensive care units.
The government has deemed the outdoors temporarily unhealthy for senior citizens, children and those with chronic respiratory ailments.
The Health Department will likely issue more advisories soon.
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The meeting weighed several options, including flooding the site and using agents to expedite combustion to deplete the slow-burning fire rapidly.
Long-term solutions suggested at the meeting reportedly included bio-mining, using micro-organisms to break down the largely unsegregated waste and retard heavy metal pollution.
The government has reportedly ruled out bio-capping, covering large garbage dumps with earth and giving the mounds a green cover, given that land was a premium in Kochi and scouting for public land for waste disposal would invariably trigger local resistance.
The meeting termed the Brahpamouram garbage dump “unsegregated legacy waste”.
Meanwhile, resident associations had blamed the Municipal authorities for ignoring cautionary reports that the garbage mound was a ticking toxic time bomb that could go off any time, especially when day temperatures soared during the scorching summer months.
In a related development, the State police were investigating whether sabotage caused the fire or it had self-ignited.
Long-term suggestions at the meeting reportedly included installing more surveillance cameras, enhanced security and more Municipal trucks to transport waste.
The government also reportedly contemplated industrial-scale solid waste processing plants in urban centres and more stringent laws to make waste segregation mandatory at the source and reduce plastic litter.
The meeting included Central government and Indian Navy officials. Another meeting to review the fire situation was likely again on Sunday evening.