Thu, 19 Jun 2003

'Dust showers' defeat health officials

Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Air pollution in a residential area near Pulo Gadung industrial estate is severe, with residents experiencing respiratory and skin problems, said officials at a community health center (Puskesmas) in Rawa Terate subdistrict, East Jakarta.

The pollution is so bad that medical workers at the Puskesmas can only bear to work up until about 12 p.m. every day, whereas their workday is supposed to end at 4 p.m., said dentist Kiki Berliana, the acting head of the clinic.

There are at least five steel casting companies and a chemical processing factory surrounding the subdistrict, and almost all of them shower the area with metal particles and sometimes sulfuric dust, she told The Jakarta Post last week.

"We keep all the doors and windows in the building closed to prevent the dust from entering," she said.

The clinic stands between PT Mahkota Indonesia, a chemical corporation that produces sulfuric acid, aluminum sulfate and sodium silicate, and PT Wahana Garuda Lestari, a steel casting factory.

She said, however, that no matter how hard clinic staff tried, they could not keep the dust out. She showed the Post some yellowish brown dust that she wiped from the floor, which had been mopped four hours earlier.

"Seven officials, including myself, suffer from this dust," said the dentist, who has worked there since 1997.

Berliana has asthma and often has attacks because of the dust. Meanwhile, her subordinate, Masniari, 42, suffers skin ailments due to the dust.

Ros, 27, another subordinate who lives next to the clinic, escapes the dust every weekend by staying at her brother's house in Depok. She cannot stand the dust, although she has not suffered any ailment as yet.

Berliana said that the number of cases of upper respiratory infection and skin allergies was very high in Rawa Terate subdistrict, and they are all triggered by the air pollution.

She said there were at least 5,778 cases of upper respiratory infection in 2001 in Rawa Terate subdistrict, which had a population of 18,549 residents that year.

"The worse cases happen in RT 10 RW 05, better known as Kampung Sawah, where every day a steel casting factory disperses smoke straight to some 500 residents there," she said.

She said that in a monthly immunization program, medical workers have trouble giving shots to children, as the syringes repeatedly get contaminated by the yellowish brown dust emitted by PT Jakarta Cakratunggal Steel Mills.

Tjandra Yoga, a pulmonologist from Persahabatan Hospital in Rawamangun, East Jakarta, said that such air pollution would at least trigger various respiratory diseases, like asthma or tuberculosis, depending on the person.

He said that the smoke could also cause other complex illnesses, but it depended on the particles contained in the dust.

"There should be a test to examine what particles are contained in the air around the area before we can determine what illnesses they may cause," he told the Post.

According to the Jakarta Environmental Management Agency (BPHLD), particulate matter or any type of solid in the air such as smoke, dust and vapor that remain suspended for extended periods can cause cancer and bronchitis.

Meanwhile, sulfur dioxide (SO2) can cause pulmonary disease, from breathing problems to permanent lung damage.