Sir jee, our whole khandan has been decimated and their children have been made beggars by this killer factory,” said Khalid Hunjra, the thirty five year old last male survivor of the Hunjra family, whose elder brothers Tahir and Qaisar died two and four years ago respectively, after fighting long and painful battles with a mysterious and incurable lung disease. “Five young men from our extended family, including my two elder brothers, and six others from our village Nut Kallar, have been killed by this factory. An old beggar woman used to beg us to stop working in the factory. She would narrate a story of death of her six young sons, who all died due to working in that factory. We thought she was crazy, so we never took her seriously.”

A visit to Khalid Hanjra’s small village Nutt Kallar, thirty kilometers east of Gujranwala city and interviews with the present and ex-workers of stone-crushing factory not only confirmed the death of 11 people from his village but also revealed deaths of two more people from an adjoining village. Khalid and his kin members worked in one of dozens of stone crushing factories in the Pindi Bypass and Lohianwlaa Bypass areas of Gujranwala. They worked at Ashraf Ansari’s factory located at Samanabad Choongi, Lohian-wala-Bypass.

Their work at the factory entailed feeding large stones to the grinding machine for breaking them down into a powdered form. The workers then mixed the white powder (silica) with another poisonous powder, i.e. boric acid, and then packed the mixture with hands and shovels into bags for distribution. In this process, due to absence of dust control mechanism, shoveling of powdered silica with boric acid raises a massive dust storm and the laborers are forced to inhale the deadly mixture of silica and boric acid. Apart from the harmful effects of the silica dust clouds on the health of the factory workers, the environment is also adversely affected – this is evident from the conditions of the working sites at such factories where even the surrounding trees are smothered and coated with a film of silica dust. Read more

Courtesy: The Nation