Though most tanneries have already been relocated to Savar from the capital's Hazaribagh area to save the Buriganga River, the untreated poisonous wastes from the leather factories are now seriously polluting another major river, the Dhaleshwari, putting its existence and biodiversity at stake, said experts.
They said the water quality of the river has seriously degraded due to the direct disposal of liquid and solid wastes, including the high level of concentrated chromium and salt, and faulty installation of central effluent treatment plant (CETP).
Talking to UNB, water experts Prof Ainun Nishat and Buet Prof Md Mujibur Rahman and green activists Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (Bapa) general secretary MA Matin and Savar River and Environment Protection Movement president Rafiqul Islam Mollah said the government must take immediate steps for making the CETP at the tannery estate fully functional fixing its problems, and creating a dumping place for solid wastes, including unused rawhides.
They also said proper action also needs to be taken to check other untreated industrial and domestic wastes, chemicals, and heavy metals, and enforce law to save the Dhaleshwari River, and its biodiversity and inhabitants on its banks.
Locals told UNB that said aquatic resources, including fish, have almost become extinct in the river as its water has got seriously contaminated with the releasing of huge untreated waste and salty water from the tanneries every day.
Visiting the river bank near the new tannery estate on Friday, it was seen that all kinds of hazardous wastes from the tanneries are flowing into the river through drains and four big pipelines.
Even, it is difficult for anybody to take breath standing on the river bank due to bad odour coming from of the polluted black-colured water of the endangered river.
Shah Alam, a resident of Jhauchar near the tannery estate and Tetuljhora Union Parishad member, said nearly 20,000 people in the area are being subjected to severe pollution by the newly relocated tanneries having no effective measure to protect the environment.
He said people are being affected with various diseases, especially skin-related ones, due to the adverse impact of the environmental degradation.
Four other local residents -- Monir Hossain, Mizanur Rahman, Sirajul Islam and Giasuddin -- also echoed the UP member and said even tube-well water in the areas has got stinky due to the contamination of the river water with tannery wastes.
Fishermen Afajuddin and Lat Mia of Jhauchar area who greatly depend on the river for fishing said they have now become day-labourers changing their old profession as no fish is now available in the river.
They said the water is so stinky and polluted that hardly any fish or other aquatic animal can survive in it. "We saw dead fish floating in the river six months ago," said Lat Mia.
Green activist Rafiqul Islam Mollah said hundreds of tonnes of salt are used in tanneries every year alongside other toxic materials like chromium to process rawhides, but their wastes are being discharged directly into the river as the CETP is not run properly. It also lacks necessary components to treat the wastewater.
He said they are planning to wage a strong movement together with people to save Dhaleshwari and locals from the pollution by the tanneries.
Prof Ainun Nishat said it is regrettable and shameful that inefficient engineers from Buet designed the CETP which is not capable to treat the huge amount of liquid wastes, including salt, of the tanneries. "Out of the four units of the CETP, only one unit is functioning regularly."
He said the government should immediately engage other experts to fix the faulty design of the CETP and enhance its capacity to treat all kinds of tannery wastes.
Prof Mujibur Rahman said the Dhaleshwari will die if proper steps are not taken very soon to check the untreated wastes of the relocated tanneries. "Now pollution by the tanneries has been shifted to Dhaleshwari from Buriganga. We shouldn't allow any industry to kill a river and harm people."
Alongside ensuring an effective and functional CETP, MA Matin said a dumping space must be set up to discharge solid wastes of the tanneries.