Continuous exposure to smoke from the burning of plastic refuse can lead to respiratory problems, doctors have warned.

They apprehend that cases of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may surface in a couple of days after exposure to smoke from the huge fire that broke out at the plastic waste dumping yard of the Kochi Corporation at Brahmapuram.

The allergens in the chemicals that come out during the burning of plastic can exacerbate lung diseases, which may require nebulisation. In some cases, hospitalisation may also be required, said Dr. Sunny P. Orathel, a specialist in chest diseases.

The long-term health hazards due to exposure to toxic gases that come out of the burning of plastic will be felt in people after a few years of the incident. Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is one such medical condition. Exposure to toxic chemicals can cause scarring in the lungs, which leads to difficulty in breathing and reduces the supply of oxygen to the bloodstream, he said.

It is the 40-plus population that is vulnerable to ILD. Then there exists the risk of lung cancer. These long-term effects of exposure to toxic fumes may take a few years to surface, cautioned Dr. Orathel.

Meanwhile, residents in the neighbourhood complained of thick smoke enveloping the area during the hours after the fire broke out. It was around 4.30 p.m. on Thursday that the incident was reported. Many people complained of breathing difficulty on the day.

Though firefighters succeeded in controlling the blaze by Friday morning, the strong wind that blew across the plant site in the afternoon stoked up smoke from the smouldering plastic refuse, said a civic administrator who was present at the accident site.

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