Rehmanpura residents under siege by noxious fumes
LAHORE: Fumes of paint and lacquer from furniture workshops in the heart of Rehmanpura are a health hazard to the residents of the area.
“My son has asthma. I cannot allow him to play in the park in front of our house because fumes from the workshops can trigger an asthma attack,” said Ghulam Rasool, who lives in a three-storey house in front of Abdur Rab Nishtar Children’s Park.
Most of the workshops are located around the park, near two schools in F Block. They use spray-guns to paint and polish furniture. But the fumes from the spray-guns are inhaled by nearby residents, and are a health-hazard. “They are open from 9am to 10pm six days a week. You can tell their work hours just from the smell. We are all used to inhaling the fumes,” said Agha Shahzad, who lives nearby.
A few years ago, the furniture was painted or polished manually, and posed no health risk. But since they acquired spray-guns, it is common to see clouds of vapour emanating from the workshops.
And the damage is not just to people’s health. A resident of a house adjacent to the shops said: “Almost everything in my house lying near a window or opening that air can get through used to get paint on it. I’ve had to seal all the windows and ventilation points on the side of the street the shops are on because of the damage the paint does.”
The residents of the area complained of respiratory problems and eye irritation because of the fumes, particularly from lacquer, spirit, and Deco paint.
“Sheikh Masood, Ghulam Rasool, Muhammad Shakeel, Lala Liaqat and Ustad Yousaf are the owners of the main workshops in the market against whom many complaints have been made, but nothing has been done about them because they have strong ties with influential people,” one local said, a view held by many others. Another local said the furniture is delivered to shops owned by rich men in posh areas, and this was another reason it was difficult to close them down.
And the situation is likely to get worse soon. “The wedding season will start in the middle of this month, and then they will be working day and night. It will be almost impossible to walk in the area. And they will start working on furniture in the children’s park. There used to be a grill around the park, but the workshop labourers broke sections of it in from of their shops so they could move furniture in and out of the ground easily. Some drug addicts stole the sections of grill and sold them,” a local said.
Daily Times surveyed other areas in Rehmanpura, and found other workshops using spray-guns in workshops near a patch of green known as D Block ground. There are similar workshops residential areas in neighbouring Ichra and most other localities in Lahore. These small industrial units, which produce shoes, fireworks, solutes, marble-work, screen-prints, leatherwork, cables, tyres, and so on, use dangerous chemicals that are harmful for their employees and for residents.
Locals said they had sent many complaints to Javed Iqbal, the area nazim, but no action has been taken against the workshops. Mr Iqbal told Daily Times he had reached an agreement with the owners of the workshops in April 2002 under which they would move their shops from the residential area within four months. However, four months later, they were still there.
“When I asked them to move from the area, they went to Lahore Nazim Mian Aamir Mehmood. Mr Mehmood was at the time involved in Mian Aslam Iqbal’s election campaign to the Punjab Assembly. (Mr Aslam Iqbal is now the Punjab tourism minister.) The spray-painters assured Mr Mehmood of their full support for Mian Aslam, so no action was taken against them,” he said. “I later sent the case to the Environment Department but they didn’t do anything either.”
Mr Iqbal said he had also told Town Nazim Sardar Adil Umar about the issue several times, but to no avail. “Around 600 people, including many schoolchildren, are suffering because of these people but no authority wants to take action against them.”
The Lahore nazim denied the allegations, saying he was not afraid of losing voters. “I myself was a kite-flyer and many kite-flyers are voters, but I banned kite-flying because it is in the best interest of Lahoris.” He added that he would personally look into the matter as soon as possible.