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Passing through crocodile’s teeth

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Use of cat’s eyes or road studs as a speed breaker is causing serious environmental hazards and economic losses

By Ali Rahmat

Everywhere in the world, the cat’s eye is used for an indication of the limits of roads. It guides the drivers on where the road ends and what are the limitations of driving in a specific lane. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, these marks are being used as speed breakers, which causes road accidents and damages to vehicles. It seems that most of the speed breakers in various cities of Pakistan are not designed for the safety of the public and instead, they are designed to burst tyres and damage car suspensions and hence, to benefit the tyre manufacturing companies. The question is that from where this design came from and who approved it to be used as a speed breaker?

Sharp-edge road studs are highly costly (At an average, the price of an aluminum/metal made road stud is around Rs600). In Pakistan, the size of these studs varies from 30mm to 50mm outside the surface of the road which is almost 2 ½ times beyond the international standard of the road’s stud. The surface spikes or sharp edge of these studs burst the expensive tyres of vehicles and it can cause serious accidents. Mostly, these studs submerge into the road due to heavy loads of the trucks and the whole investment on their installation is wasted. In short, these studs not only pose risks of accidents but also cause economic loss to individuals and the state.

Tyres are a source of pollution which is generally given very little attention. They are harmful to human health and the environment because their complex composition makes them difficult to recycle.

Likewise, tyres are a product of complex engineering made up of numerous different rubber compounds. A common all-season passenger tyre weighs around 10kg (22lbs) and contains polyester and nylon fiber, steel cord for belts,  steel bead wire, 30 kinds of synthetic rubber 8 kinds of natural rubber and 40 different chemicals, waxes, oils, pigments, silica, and clays.

The three main effects tyre burning has on the environment is water, air, and soil pollution.

Pawan-2006, in a research paper, states that tyres contain total of approximately 1.5 % by weight of hazardous waste compounds such as Zinc (Zn), Copper (Cu), Cadmium(Cd), Lead (Pb), organohalogens and many others are present in alloying element or encased in the rubber compounds. The release of such metals may not only pollute the environment but also enter the food chain from soils.

Heavy metals are stable and persistent environmental contaminants since they cannot be biologically and chemically degraded or destroyed, unlike many other organic toxic pollutants. Exposure to these metal ions in adequate quantities can have severe impacts on human health that may include nervous system disorders, endocrine-disrupting effects, cancer, and damage reproductive system.

Tyre burning emits ultra-fine particles that have toxicity their own such as NOx, SOx, COx, dioxins, etc. Catherine Hansen wrote in a report to EcoMENA that tyres also include  ‘non-criteria’ hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), such as hydrogen chloride, dioxins, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, furans, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Both criteria and non-criteria pollutants can cause significant acute and chronic health effects including irritation of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes, respiratory effects, depression, central nervous system, and cancer.

Recently, the Federal Government has imposed a ban on polythene bags in the Federal Capital because of its negative impacts on the environment. Several shopkeepers in Islamabad were fined for violation of the newly enforced law. However, there are several other factors that are contributing much more to deteriorating the environment and economy if compared with banning plastic bags including tyres.

Therefore, these speed breaker studs may look smaller issues apparently but it has a huge deteriorating impact on the environment, economy and it encases serious health and safety issues. By analyzing it in a broader sense, one may deduce that these studs are the tool for boosting the tyre business. Manufacturing of these tyres needs a lot of energy and resources which raises questions about sustainability, climate change, human health and economy and monopoly behind these practices. Ban on the use of these studs as speed breakers, therefore, would be in the best interest of people and the country itself.

Ali Rehmat is a graduate of Karachi University. He got master’s degree in environmental sciences. Currently, he is working as a trainee researcher at the Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).

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