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So much for a glitter!

KOLKATA, 12 JULY: The state pollution control board strictures on operation of gold smelting units in the Bowbazaar area has done little to stop the practice that is not only harmful for the environment, but also a health hazard for the workers.
While the toxic metal, cadmium, is used unabated in soldering jewellery, the limit of half a litre of nitric acid and sulphuric acid set by the pollution control board is seldom adhered to.
“We are not scared of the acid fumes. We often need to take some tablets so that our lungs are not damaged,” said an owner of a smelting unit in Harkata Gali in Bowbazar, pouring nitric acid into a bowl that contained a piece of bronze. Soon, the room was filled with brown acid fumes, later pushed out into the open by an exhaust fan.
He also said that they receive a huge quantity of old jewellery from different places. They need to clean them first with the help of acid and then start the process of smelting. The acid fumes are a major source of air-pollution in the area, which is teeming with such units. Four to six smelters are cooped up in tiny rooms, that generally have a small window to let the acid fumes out. Most of these smelters are reported to have major respiratory problems. Residents of the area prefer to rent out rooms to goldsmiths to make money.
“We have tried to stop this a number of times. But despite warning them repeatedly, they carry on with the practice. It is not possible for us to go and check everyday,” said Mr Biswajit Mukherjee, chief law officer of PCB.
The goldsmiths work not only amidst harmful fumes, but also with cadmium which is used in soldering the metal.
Though the general secretary of Banga Swarna Silpi Samity, Mr Tagar Chandra Poddar, denied the use of cadmium vehemently, one of the workers near the branch office of the samity, a stone’s throw from the head office, said, “The samity has no idea in what conditions we work. We are forced to use cadmium.” Inhaling cadmium-laden dust quickly leads to respiratory tract and kidney problems that can be fatal. Mr Poddar also said that it takes Rs 1,800 to get a green category certificate. But the set up of the units are such that it cannot be ensured that the work going on there is in line with environmental norms. Ms Sanchita Mondal, MMIC, environment, said: “This does considerable harm to the buildings. We are planning to launch an awareness drive for the goldsmiths.”
There should be a way to ensure that the workers do not suffer and that the environment can be saved at the same time, she added.

Soma Basu

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