Many key players in the space of Information Technology and Information Technology Enabled Services (IT & ITES) in Chennai are located in OMR, Perungudi, Thoraipakkam, Navalur and Siruseri.
Over the past few decades, the number of offices in the area has grown exponentially. With many jobs available, large apartment complexes began to be built to cater to the needs of the people. The population along the IT corridor now runs into lakhs.
Unfortunately for the residents, the area is also home to the Perungudi dump yard, one of the city’s two dump yards. Much of the solid waste from all parts of south and central Chennai is dumped here.
The dump yard has been in use for over three decades and spans close to 200 acres. The Perungudi sewage treatment plant too is located adjacent to the dump yard and discharges the effluent nearby. The waste at the site mixes with the sewage water and contaminates it further.
As early as 2004, the presence of poisonous chemicals in the ambient air surrounding the dump yards was noted. The air in Perungudi was found to have 27 toxic chemicals including three carcinogens. But little has been done to effectively remedy the impact of the dump yard until last year.
Recently, attempts have been made to decentralise the city’s waste management system and reduce the amount of waste being sent to the dump yards. The Perungudi dump yard is also undergoing bio-remediation. However, the process has been slow and there are questions about the lasting damage caused by the dump yard to the environment in the surrounding areas.
Read more: What do we do with Chennai’s legacy waste?
Impact of Perungudi dump yard on surrounding environment
The release of methane gas is the most pressing environmental concern in dump yards. When the organic mass in landfills decomposes methane gas is released. Methane is 84 times more effective at absorbing the sun’s heat than carbon dioxide, making it one of the most potent greenhouse gases and a huge contributor to climate change.
Apart from the production of methane, the leachate produced by the waste in the dump yard also results in pollution. Leachate seeps into the ground, leading to the contamination of groundwater.
The dump yard has also routinely caught fire, emanating toxic gas and fumes.
Residents have also had to deal with air pollution, uncontrollable stench from the growing mountain of waste and the contamination of groundwater.
In 2022, the Perungudi dump yard caught fire resulting in a thick blanket of smoke engulfing the nearby area. Smoke covered most of the houses within a radius of 4 km. The intensity of the summer heat and the presence of methane resulted in the fire. The fire took over three days to be put out, during which time the residents were forced to breathe toxic air.
All of this has a wide-reaching impact on the health of those who live near the dump yard. Residents face a range of issues from breathing difficulties to a rise in instances of serious illnesses like cancer and are affected by skin diseases as well.
As one of the residents in Thoraipakkam, I have experienced frequent health issues such as severe respiratory issues, throat irritation and cough. This is the situation for several families and thousands of employees working in IT parks, health care centres, Central and State government departments and other establishments within a two to three km radius of the Perungudi dump yard.
Particularly, during rainy and winter seasons children and senior citizens are affected by various health hazards.
Marshland affected by Perungudi dump yard
The Perungudi dump yard’s environmental impact also extends to the nearby Pallikaranai marshland.
The marshland is the largest natural rainwater harvesting system in the region and is linked to the Bay of Bengal through a network of channels.
The Pallikaranai marshland works to mitigate the impact of floods and also helps recharge groundwater. It is also a hub of biodiversity.
Having the dump yard located so close to this ecologically sensitive region has caused great harm. With the marshland already shrinking due to encroachment, what is left of it is impacted by the pollution caused by the dump yard.
A few months after the fire in the dump yard, the water in the marshland turned pink, much to the alarm of the residents. Scientists and authorities were of the view that this was due to the increase in the presence of pollutants and leachate leading to the growth of methane-oxidising bacteria and algae.
Residents protest against Perungudi dump yard
Residents have held multiple protests on this issue under various RWAs and civil society organisations, demanding change.
Some positive developments in recent times have been the start of bio-mining work in the dump yard. Bio-mining is expected to address the issue of legacy waste in the dump yard.
A combination of imported machinery and local manpower is being used to carry out bio-mining. In three years, the dump yard could be transformed if the process is successful. This will provide such much-needed respite for the residents of the area.
The residents around the dump yard have faced multiple issues due to the accumulation of waste and destruction of the environment. It is our hope that with bio-mining and better decentralisation, the problems that have stemmed from the dump yard can be remedied.