Wed, 22 Mar 2023 Today's Paper

Is the water we drink safe?

21 September 2015 06:38 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Study reveals Kelani water contaminated with toxic chemicals 

The Kelani River, a 145-km-long and ranked as the fourth longest river in the country. From its root in the Sri Pada Mountain Range it flows through Nuwara Eliya, Ratnapura, Kegalle, Gampaha and reaches Colombo. The Kelani River is the main source of supply of drinking water for Colombo, and now it is considered the most polluted river in Sri Lanka due to the rapid growth of industries located in close proximity to it. The industries located in the Biyagama Industrial Zone are blamed for the pollution since they conveniently discharge their wastewater and other effluent substances into the Kelani River.

As specified in the National Environmental Act, it is compulsory to obtain an Environmental Protection Licence (EPL) to discharge wastewater into the environment from an industry. It is also reported that most of the companies in the Biyagama Industrial Zone have already obtained the EPL. The legal policy planning authorities might suppose that the companies are following the specified provisions.

But, there is no regular monitoring mechanism to evaluate whether the companies meet the criteria in disposing waste into the river.

The public  raised concerns about the cleanliness of drinking water sourced from the Kelani River after the suspension of water supply in several parts of Colombo District due to dispensing its water laced with oil and reports cited toxic chemical and arsenic had been found through a study conducted by the Centre for Environmental and Nature Studies (CENS). Amid all the political and regional issues, serious environmental crisis is in our hands. The situation is so serious that the bad impacts on the millions of people who consume this water are massive. This must be treated as a national crisis, and tangible and immediate action should be taken to save millions of human lives. 

“We could find high levels of arsenic - nearly 0.004 kg / m3 (4.00 milligrams) per litre - in several areas in the Kelani River”

Ravindra Kariyawasam
An environmentalist and a researcher of the Centre for Environmental and Nature Studies (CENS) told Dailymirror that testing of water samples taken from several locations of the Kelani River has established that the river has been contaminated with arsenic which could cause kidney diseases on the long-run.

“We started this research in 2013 to find out the water pollution in the Kelani River. We checked 36 parameters of the chosen areas. We checked for heavy metals in the chemical compound of the water. And then we could find high levels of arsenic - nearly 0.004 kg / m3 (4.00 milligrams) per litre - in several areas in the Kelani River. This was caused due to the release of chemicals and effluent substances by over 150 industries located in the Biyagama Industrial Zone. It takes about 20 years for even an atom of arsenic to get decomposed and the duration for the decomposition of nearly 0.004 kg / m3 arsenic found in Kelani River waters would run into decades. The authorities must take necessary action to boost up the purification process,” he said. “This is an ongoing research. The full report of the findings of their studies will be handed over to the Environment Ministry and President Maithripala Sirisena with the completion of the studies in December 2016. We are responsible for what we claim. We are a registered, non-profitable institution run by private funds of the contributors. The studies are being conducted by several qualified persons including Prof. Rajesh Goyel from Desh Bhagat University in India, Prof. D.F.Gerewal from India, German Scientist Freeza Michelle and Italian Scientist Ayarin Giagomppi,” he added.
“Our officers have the records of water sample tests carried out during the past 15 years”


After the CENS’s findings, it became a hot topic among the public. Meanwhile, the NWSDB is the main authority which purifies and cleanses water for the public and monitors the contaminated content in the river before consumption. It denied the reports about the contamination of Kelani River with arsenic.

NWSDB General Manager Ranjith Balasooriya said that the NWSDB did not find  arsenic or any other toxic chemical over the limit specified by experts. “Water from this river is treated at the Ambatale and Biyagama water treatment plants before being dispensed to consumers in Colombo and its suburbs. Water samples taken from the Kelani River were tested for arsenic every week at the laboratories in these two plants for 15 years. Our officers have the records of water sample tests carried out during the past 15 years. But none of the reports had found the permissible amount of arsenic in drinking water had been exceeded in the river. “Water treatment is carried out according to the required specification determined by Sri Lanka Standards 614-2013, and that the treatment plants in Ambatale and Biyagama had at all times complied with international standards -- ISO 9001-2008,” he had further added.

“The tests revealed that there was no arsenic or any heavy metal in the water”

Dr. Sanjaya Ratnayake - CEA

When inquired about the claims, the CEA also denied it following the same method used by the NWSDB. Due to the social discussion which suspected the quality of drinking water supplied from the Kelani River, the CEA took immediate action to defend themselves by requesting the public not to panic while assuring that the water had no toxic chemicals that were likely to harm the human body.
“The quality of water was tested by the CEA and the NWSDB using samples of water taken from the Kelani River on the day the alleged contamination was reported by consumers. The tests revealed that there was no arsenic or any heavy metal in the water,” CEA Deputy Director General Dr. Sanjaya Ratnayake said.

He said the CEA had monitored some industries located within the Biyagama Industrial Zone which was reported to have released effluent substances and chemicals into the river.

“Our officials visited the industries and instructed them on their waste management systems. The industries would be constantly observed by us,” he said. Meanwhile, he had also instructed those living on the banks of the Kelani River not to dispose of any waste material.

The  could speak to some of the residents who are living near the banks of the Kelani River in the neighbourhood of the Biyagama Industrial Zone to get their thoughts and views regarding the claims.

“I have many doubts of their so-called studies and their results”
-Jagath Gunewardana

A well-known Environmentalist commenting on the studies conducted by CENS said he suspected the standard and credibility of the studies and its findings.

“These are just speculations of some organizations. Why should we believe their claims? We have responsible and reliable governmental organizations to monitor the quality of our water supply. Our people do not need to panic. National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) is conducting tests everyday by taking samples from the Kelani River, and as far as I am concerned, no heavy metal was found to have contaminated the water that was being supplied to Colombo and its suburbs. I have many doubts of their so-called studies and their results. What I have to say is, don’t get panicked after hearing their statements.”

Residents’ claims

When we spoke to them, we found that several inconveniences they faced due to the course of action by the companies in the Biyagama Industrial Zone that eventually left the villagers’ day to day lives in a nightmare.

The residents in Pahala Biyagama area drink and use well-borne water for their day to day needs. They were critical of a famous beer manufacturing industry that had dug a huge well in Biyagama in order to obtain water for their beverage manufacturing needs. The residents claimed that all the water fountains in the area have been absorbed by that huge well and consequently the old wells belonging to the residents had dried. 

The residents said that all the 150 companies located in the Biyagama Industrial Zone disposed garbage and other effluent substances into the river as a habit. They said that there were several places where empty bottles were heaped in the premises of some companies turning the atmosphere into a potential mosquito breeding ground. Notably, the Biyagama area has been reported with a considerable number of Dengue patients. Residents also said that though the Public Health Officers visited them time to time, the companies did not seem to have halted this practice.

M.G. Nandasena, a resident near the Kelani River had filed a petition with the support of several other villagers in the Western Provincial Council’s Public Petitions Committee regarding the difficulties they were being faced with. 

“I was struggling against this crisis since 2000. But, the authorities turn a blind eye to this matter. After the petition, a placement test was ordered by the Biyagama Provincial Council Chairman.

Building our hopes, the officials had visited the companies. But, as we were aware, they had allegedly been given some financial gratifications by the management of high profit yielding companies in order to hide the truth. Nevertheless, I did not give up. I complained to the CEA. I regret to say that they did not take any decision against the wrongdoers after having even visited those places,” he said.
He requested the present Government authorities to pay thorough attention into this matter and resolve it. 

“We have solutions. The Government should deploy a representative each in these companies so that he/she could observe daily garbage disposal and process. This can still be addressed. But, the authorities do not take legal action. We all would fall sick as time went on. As we know our law enforcement is inactive until human lives would be dragged into danger. We beg them. Please do something to ensure the safety of our lives without considering temporary political advantages,” he said.

“We don’ know how to recognize heavy metals such as arsenic in the drinking water. But, we are certain that every negative result is due to the carelessness of the administration of the companies,” he said.

Another female resident who lives in Pahala Biyagama said that previously they could obtain water by digging the earth 10 feet below. After that beer manufacturing company’s huge well was dug, they could not get water even at 30 feet below. 

“They need water for their beverage manufacturing. As far as we know, one million bottles of beer are manufactured daily, and therefore, we don’t have water to drink. Now, we have to pay and get water. No one is there for us,e specially the politicians who visit us only during the election period,” she lamented. “There had been several instances when the authorities had visited the companies as a result of our complaints. But, we came to know that the companies’ management had tempted them with bribes and kept their mouths shut,” she claimed.

Another resident told us that some of the residents who lived in the vicinity of the factories had struck some deals with the company authorities.“The companies keep asking us to come forward if we were keen to sell our plots of land because they needed more space to expand their business activities. Many of the villagers had agreed to it, since they were given large sums of money, much more than their real value. Now those who sold their lands cannot utter a word against the  procedures of those companies,” he said.

Special thanks to Telshan Network (pvt) Ltd (TNL) and Dhananjaya Narambedda

  Comments - 0

Add comment

Comments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.

Reply To:

Name - Reply Comment

Wokeism: Is it destructive, or are you afraid of change? A response

In order to critically discuss a movement, we must first understand its etymo

Defeat in Ananthapuram Battle denoted the LTTE’s end

Many battles were fought during the long war between the Sri Lankan armed for

Wokeism: A Weapon of Mass Destruction?

When can one say they’ve had enough of being in a state of ‘wokeness’ a

Fake news fraud using Prabha and family

Members of a dozen Sri Lankan Tamil families gathered in the evening at the r