KOLKATA, 1 SEPT: At a time when the state pollution control board has taken up a drive to phase out lead, a toxic-metal, innumerable lead-battery units in the city not only continue to cough out lead aerosol and dust, but also ignore the safety of labourers working in these units.
There are about 100 small or medium lead battery units operating on the stretch of APC Road from Manicktala Crossing to Khanna Crossing. While some of the units in this area, better known as Peyara Bagan, have trade licences, some operate without it. The narrow lanes could be seen having a smoke-filled one-room workshop where men are seen melting lead. Neither do they have gloves nor masks to protect them from lead dust and aerosol, acid fumes and the molten metal (see sns photos).
Mr Prasanta Barui, a worker in one of the factories in the area, said: “My brother and I have developed stomach problems. But these are occupational hazards. We do not have a choice but to work here.”
Mr Barui and his brother do not have a single document to prove that they work for the battery unit. Most of the men are hired from the city outskirts and they are not kept at the same unit for more than four to five years. “We cannot claim compensation in case we meet with an accident as the owner can any day say that we are not his employees,” said Mr Ram Karmakar, another worker in the unit.
“Most of the people are forced to quit jobs within five years as they contract diseases,” said Mr Sanat Paul, who suffers from lead neuropathy, a disorder caused by lead poisoning. Mr Paul was an employee of a battery unit almost 12 years ago. His job was to knead red lead and acid and spread the mixture out on a plate that are used to make the structural units of large lead batteries. This is a hazardous process as per Factories Act, 1948.
According to a scientist with the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB), lead is the most widely studied toxic metal and the WHO has declared that there is no safe limit for lead in human body. While its adverse effect on the central nervous system and kidneys is known as clinical disorder, under-developed IQ level is the sub-clinical effect mostly seen in children. “The government had made it mandatory that anywhere where lead is used or processed, a 30-metre high chimney should be put up with a suction mechanism. However, primitive industries seldom follow the guidelines. The way they get the scrap lead is also illegal,” he said. Mr Sandipan Mukherjee, member secretary of WBPCB, said that the board would soon look into the matter.