Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Froth from polluted water is overtaking roads in Bangalore and filling the air with a noxious stench.
Strange, puffy, dense clouds are descending on the streets of Bangalore, India’s technology capital. While whimsical-looking, they are actually puffs of a toxic foam inundating the city.
Documentary photographer Debasish Ghosh has captured images of the clouds floating around the city and overrunning the roads. The foam comes from Bellandur, a 1.4-square-mile lake that for years has been polluted by chemical and sewage waste. Every time it rains, the lake rises and wind lifts the froth up and carries it into the city.
The toxic foam gets in the way of pedestrians and cars, creating awful traffic jams. It carries a stench so strong that it burns the nose. And if it comes into contact with your skin, you’ll get an itchy rash.
“It causes a nuisance,” Ghosh says.
Making matters worse, the froth is flammable. In May and June, the entire lake caught fire, leaving a 56-year-old man who was standing on a bridge above the lake with a ruptured cornea.
The froth has come every summer for more more than a decade now, but Ghosh says that this year is particularly bad. He’s been documenting the pollution since May, making sure to immediately clean his arms, hands, and face any time he gets too close.
Residents in the area have filed numerous complaints to the city, according to Ghosh, but the government has done little to remedy the situation. Ghosh says since his photos were first published by the BBC, the government has paid a bit more attention, but still not enough. For now, city officials try to keep the foam down whenever it rains by pumping water into the lake. “What happens is the water [mixes with] the foam at a high speed, and it disintegrates and doesn't rise up,” says Ghosh. “That's how they are controlling it at this point in time, so it doesn't fall on people.”
Actually cleaning up Bellandur and other polluted lakes won’t be easy. Once known for being the home of nearly a thousand lakes, Bangalore has become known as the “land of a thousand sewage tanks,” instead. Today, after years of urbanization, only about 150 lakes still exist, according to the Deccan Herald. The rest are either used as garbage dumps or, when they dry up, filled in and put up for grabs.
“There’s so much pollution that it will take lots of time and lots of investment to bring this lake back to normal,” he says. “To what it was maybe two decades ago, when people say there would still be migratory birds in there.”