Spontaneously Combustible Fluffy White Foam Overruns The Streets Of Bangalore City

The streets of India’s technology capital, Bangalore, are being overtaken by dense fluffy white clouds that resemble the freshest of fallen snow. The clouds have invaded the streets of the tropical city. In the case of this city looks can be deceiving as these clouds are actually toxic, the foams created when the heavily polluted giant Bellandur Lake comes into contact with the showers of rain the city has.

The stench of the foam in Bangalore city can be so intense that it burns the nostrils and bio-engineering expert Durga Madhab Mahapatra of the Indian Institute of Sciences advised that contaminated air particles from the river are also causing a burning sensation in people’s eyes. According to the Daily Mail the foam off Bellandur Lake has been known to rise up to a meter high on the streets and causes many issues for motorists and pedestrians on the streets. If the foam comes into contact with the skin a nasty itchy rash will be the result.

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Bellandur Lake runs for 1.4 square miles (9,000 acres) and has built up a consistent flow of pollutants beneath its surface in the form of chemical waste and raw sewage. The lake rises with each rainfall and the wind lifts and carries the toxic byproduct that is the foam into Bangalore city. In even more shocking news, the foam from Bellandur Lake has been known to spontaneously combust due to the chemicals present in them. A combination of low-dissolved oxygen, phosphate, and ammonia have also combined to cause a rather foul smell to emanate from the foam, while detergents, oils, and grease in the mixture are what has been known to cause the white foam to ignite.

In May and June, the combustible foam on the entire Bellandur Lake caught fire and one unfortunate 56-year-old man, who had been standing on a bridge above the lake, was left with a ruptured cornea.

Bangalore’s plight has been ongoing for over a decade now and every summer the combustible foam invades, though IT professional and documentary photographer Debasish Ghosh says that this year has been much worse. He has been capturing images of the toxic clouds as they float around the city and have overrun the roads since May. Ghosh says he has to endeavor to thoroughly wash his face, hands, and arms any time he gets too close to the foam.

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The locals have filed numerous complaints and petitions in the court calling for action — the earliest complaints date back to 2000 — but still the issues persist. The residents believe that the government is not doing enough, or anything at all, to eliminate the foam. Their concern has led to the formation of a Facebook page in order to raise awareness of the situation. BBC published Ghosh’s combustible-foam-filled photographs in September and since then he says the government has paid a bit more attention to Ballundur Lake’s pollution, but it is still not enough. City Lab reported that the photographer relayed how, in an attempt to keep the foams down, city officials spray water on the lake whenever there is heavy rainfall.

“What happens is the water [mixes with] the foam at a high speed, and it disintegrates and doesn’t rise up. That’s how they are controlling it at this point in time, so it doesn’t fall on people.”

The solution is temporary and there needs to be a bigger investment in cleaning up the pollution in Bangalore. Once hailed as the land of 1,000 lakes, there are only about 150 lakes remaining today in Bangalore and it is more commonly referred to as the “Land of 1,000 sewage tanks.” Urbanization has destroyed the city as many former lakes have been turned into garbage dumps, or are filled in the moment they dry up and the land is sold to the highest bidder.

“There’s so much pollution that it will take lots of time and lots of investment to bring this lake back to normal, to what it was maybe two decades ago, when people say there would still be migratory birds in there.”

As more visibility is drawn to the damage, the polluted Bellandur Lake — and its dangerous combustible foam — are causing trouble in Bangalore, and it is the hope of the people that the problem can be tackled in earnest.

[Photo Courtesy of Debasish Ghosh]