The ship-breaking industry generates important economic benefits and at the same time causes environmental hazards. It is a challenging process of disassembling the structure of a superfluous ship for scrapping.
In Bangladesh, it was started in 1974 and flourished in 1980. 95% of dead ships materials can be recycled but remaining 5% contains hazardous wastes, asbestos, arsenic and mercury etc.
This industry supplies 80% of the domestic demand of steel. Also it meets 90% of the iron demand of the country. It provides raw materials for re-rolling mills, steel factories, plate re-manufacturing, asbestos manufacturing, lubricating and oil generation. It is an imperative source of supplying electric materials, navigation equipments, personal protective equipment, chemicals and electric wiring, batteries, kitchen materials and furniture etc. Around 100 ship yards directly or indirectly employ 20,000-25,000 workers in the country. It generates 15 million dollars in revenue annually.
Discarded ships weighing between 15,000 and 40,000 tons, 95% of which is steel coated with tons of paint containing heavy metals-lead, cadmium, organotins, arsenic, zinc and chromium. They also contain a wide range of other perilous wastes. Persistent organic pollutants – polychlorinated Biphenyl Compounds, dioxins, polyvinyl chloride, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon are very detrimental for environment and public health. These chemicals are guilty for escalating sensitivity and tingling sensation in the face and limbs, cardiac irritability, muscular contractions, retardation of foetal growth, birth defects, infertility, cell damage and mutations, cancer (liver, breast, adrenal glands), weight loss, loss of appetite, headache, liver and renal damage, and cordial arrhythmia.
Asbestos is used as a heat insulator and also in cement industrial unit. Moreover scrapped ships contain several thousand litres of engine oil, bilge oil, hydraulic and lubricants oils and grease. Asbestosis affects tissue and cell of human body causing permanent breathing difficulties, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. Heavy metals – mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium are conscientious of the nervous system, learning difficulties of children, brain and kidney damage, higher blood pressure, damage to blood vessels, eczema, respiratory disease, and anaemia, cancer (lung, skin, intestine, and liver).
Some tankers may have an additional 1,000 cubic meters of residual oil. Oil pollution occurs when oil residues and various refuses are spilled during ship breaking. Oil contamination affects seabirds- hypothermia, less legs, pneumonia; marine mammals- hypothermia, metabolic shock.
Fish, mollusks, crustaceans and turtles are also affected by oil spilling. Since ship-breaking activities adversely affects the soil and seawater through ammonia discharge, oil spillage, floatable grease ball and metal rust, high turbidity of seawater, it is negatively influencing the marine biodiversity.
Out of 120 ship-breaking yards in the country, only 50 use effluent treatment plants. Recently the department of environment fined several ship-breaking yards for ignoring workers’ safety and polluting environment. The supreme court of the country has asked the ship breakers association to execute the High Court order, which ruled that no ship could be imported in the country without pre-cleaning and environmental certificates from exporting countries.
Safe and environment friendly waste management system is not followed in Bangladesh. Ship breaking activities in the coastal area are changing the physiochemical properties of sea water. It has been observed; there are differences of physiochemical properties and lower abundance of phytoplankton and zooplankton between ship-breaking area and organise area. It would be better if the government gradually adopts an environment friendly practice for the industry so that the industry gets sufficient time to adjust to new regulations and standards. In this context, it needs complete principles to organise. The govt should recognise this industry as a complete sector of industry by proper monitoring of export and import, environment oriented systems to cut ships and develop eco-infrastructure.
The writer is an Environment Analyst & Associate
Member of Bangladesh Economic Association.