The authors report high levels of hexavalent chromium in the area, which is not used in the tanning industry – trivalent chromium is used. Further investigation is required to substantiate the hexavalent chromium claim made by the Blacksmith Institute and the Green Cross but there is no doubt that the Hazaribagh district is heavily polluted.

According to the a press release published in Dhaka Tribune at least 160,000 people have become victims of pollution due to the presence of toxic chemicals, mainly chromium, in Hazaribagh, according to a report titled, “The Top Ten Toxic Threats: Clean-up, Progress, and Ongoing Challenges,” published by Zurich-based Green Cross Switzerland and the New York-based Blacksmith Institute.

Hazaribagh came fifth on the list of top 10 polluted places, which include Agbogbloshie Dumpsite in Ghana, Chernobyl in Ukraine, Citarum River in Indonesia, Dzerzhinsk in Russia, Kabwe in Zambia, Kalimantan in Indonesia, Matanza-Riachuelo in Argentina, Niger River Delta in Nigeria and Norilsk in Russia.

The report estimates that the sites listed in the top 10 pose health risks to more than 200 million people in low- and medium-income countries as a range of pollution sources and contaminants, including hexavalent chromium from tanneries and other heavy metals, were released from smelting operations (not tanneries), the organisations said in a press release on November 5.

“In this year’s report, we cite some of the most polluted places we’ve encountered. But it is important to point out that the problem is really much larger than these ten sites,” said Richard Fuller, President of Blacksmith Institute. “We estimate that the health of more than 200 million people is at risk from pollution in the developing world.”

Apart from hexavalent chromium, which is a well-known carcinogen, workers and residents of Hazaribagh also face a number of less severe but common health problems every day.

“Skin and respiratory diseases, for instance, result from repeated exposure to hazardous chemicals when measuring and mixing them as part of the tanning process,” the press release said. “Acid burns, rashes, aches, dizziness and nausea are also common health problems faced by local residents.”

The homes of tannery workers in Hazaribagh are built next to contaminated streams, ponds, and canals. Informal leather recyclers who burn scraps of leather to produce a number of consumer products also heavily pollute the air, the report added.

There are 270 registered tanneries in Bangladesh, employing around 8,000-12,000 people.

Around 95% of the tanneries are located in Hazaribagh on 25 hectares of land, and most use old, outdated and inefficient processing methods.

“Every day, the tanneries collectively dump 22,000 cubic litres of toxic waste, including cancer-causing hexavalent chromium, into the Buriganga, Dhaka’s main river and a key water supply,” said the report.

“The Top Ten Toxic Threats” is the latest in a series of annual reports documenting global pollution issues. Many of the previous reports have listed pollution problems, rather than sites, based on their estimated impact on human health.