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Poisoning Kelani River, slow and steady

28 September 2015 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The Kelani River bears the living testimonial for the most polluted river in Sri Lanka while being recorded as the second largest river in the country. It is 145km long has a river basin of 2,292 sq. km. 

However, while it is the main source of drinking water for the people it is home to many aquatic species. The pandemonium that prevailed on August 17 following the leaking of oil to the Kelani River left relevant authorities burdened with a series of questions requiring urgent answers.  It was also simultaneously reported that the Kelani River is increasingly polluted because of the release of toxic waste by industries in the vicinity. 

Speaking to , the relevant authorities including a leading environmentalist in the country, had the following to say regarding the contamination of the Kelani River. 

Kelani River is ecologically threatened due to toxic waste released by industries - Nayanaka Ranwella
Environmentalist Nayanaka Ranwella told Daily Mirror that according to studies conducted by the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) it cannot be confirmed that the Kelani River was contaminated merely on the basis of the leaking of oil into the river.  He said reports indicate the release of a carcinogenic chemical substance into the river.  “The contamination of the Kelani River has resulted in severe repercussions for both nature and mankind. The ecological aspects of the Kelani River are threatened due to the outflow of chemical effluences by various industries that are operating along both sides of the river bank. The Coca Cola Company alone cannot be held accountable for the damage caused to the Kelani River and most importantly to its ecology.

It has been reported that there are another seventy six factories releasing its toxic waste into the Kelani River. The Central Environmental Authority should take stronger measures to ensure the environmental safety before blaming the factories located along the river bank. Vigilant and sustainable procedures must be put into action as precautionary measures at the inception of such industrial units to guarantee environmental safety. This is what we as environmentalists suggest as a measure to conserve the environment. We do not say that these enterprises must be wiped out forever since it is the means through which many earn their bread and butter. Instead, we propose that these factories must be evacuated from their current locations since they are in close proximity to the Kelani River. Under the constant supervision of the CEA and the Police, these companies must be relocated at another location while ensuring that they are established in an environmental friendly manner,” Mr. Ranwella said. He said the CEA and the Police must monitor their working procedures continuously and introduce a sustainable solid waste management system that promoted recycling and purifying. Mr. Ranwella said Sri Lanka lacked the advanced technology that was required to test the levels of heavy metals that could be evident in water samples. Very often tests are carried out to ascertain the Ph level, odour and the transparency in water. Currently the CEA has begun investigations into 76 companies in close proximity to the Kelani River to ascertain if they were releasing chemical effluence and other pollutants into the water.

He alleged that most of the factories release their noxious waste matter into the water when the tide is high and said it was not practical to constantly monitor what these factories are up to and that the NWSDB might test samples to ascertain the quality of water regularly but this might not be the case every other minute because it was not practical to do so. He also warned that there was a constant threat where domestic waste may find its way into the river. “Such oil leaks and frequent release of pollutants to the river would cause severe damage to aquatic life. As in the case of fish, those who swim close to the surface may suffer from respiratory problems. Larger fish that consume small fish are also prone to absorb such toxic into their system. Breathing difficulties are a common case for fish that are highly sensitive. Currently, the Wildlife Conservation Forum is studying how such elements could affect the bio diversity of the Kelani River. Only a few are voicing their thoughts on the damages caused to the environment and in many cases, there isn’t a clear method followed by authorities to demand compensation for environmental violations’’ Mr. Ranwella said.

Kelani River is the most polluted river in Sri Lanka: Environmental Foundation Limited
The Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) alleged that the Kelani River is the most polluted river in Sri Lanka due to effluents discharged to the river by the increasing number of industries that have reinstated themselves in the watershed of the Kelani River, agricultural runoff and domestic and municipal effluents. 

The EFL also pointed out that effluents are discharged to the river due to the ad-hoc dumping of municipal waste as stated by the CEA. Accordingly, when the river flows through the city of Colombo, the concentration of water pollution significantly increases.  When inquired about the recent oil leak in the Kelani River on August 17 and its link to the Coca Cola Company, the EFL in collaboration with the CEA, proposed the following analysis and recommendations for implementation. 

“The National Environmental Act (NEA), as amended, is the standard law under which all industries and development projects are to operate in Sri Lanka and is implemented by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA). According to the NEA, depending on the scale and nature of the industry or project, an Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) or an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required prior to approval of project initiation while an EPL has to be obtained for operation of the industry or project if waste is generated. The IEE or EIA is the regulatory and planning tool utilized by the CEA for management and sustainable utilization of natural resource base of Sri Lanka and the EPL is the regulatory tool for  pollution control. 

All industries, as listed out in Gazette No. 1533/16 of 2008, require an EPL in relation to the emission of discharge, deposition or emission of waste. The goal of an EPL is to ensure that the discharge, deposition or emission of waste by industrial, commercial or other processes is done according to prescribed standards and procedures. 

Industries which discharge, deposit or emit waste, with the final point of discharge as rivers or other water bodies, create a significant impact on the quality of water on these water bodies, that also provide essential services to a greater community. While the legal procedure for the issuance of the EPL and approvals for EIAs requires the industries/project to adhere to various legal standards, there is no monitoring of these industries, unless there is a complaint, until the license/approval is produced for renewal one year, three years or the prescribed period after it was first issued”. In addition EFL stressed that relevant authorities including Central Environmental Authority, National Water Supply and Drainage Board, Marine Environmental Protection Authority, Coast Conservation Department and the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka should play a proactive role to thwart any further occurrences of such environmental pollution. EFL highlighted that such environmental pollution incidents would give rise to severe social, environmental and economical impacts if not prevented in future. 

“Penalising the Coca Cola Company is essential, but by itself would not solve the problem, which is ineffective implementation of the existing legislative safeguards” EFL said. While emphasising that more rigorous and effective monitoring mechanisms should be brought into place EFL was also of the view that  in dealing with sensitive issues such as potable water, advances in the technology and science should be made use of more efficiently and these areas have to be identified as priority in allocating government resources.

Kelani River water is completely safe for drinking: NWSDB Deputy General Manager B. Ranjith Perera
Responding to the controversy associated to the hygiene of the Kelani River, NWSDB Deputy General Manager Ranjith Perera said all plants have undergone water treatment. He said that the drinking water from Ambathale and Biyagama have been maintained in compliance with the ISO 9001 – 2001 QMS (Quality Management Systems) standards and hygienic requirements.

“The situation has returned to normal and there is nothing to fear about the hygienic standards of the drinking water that comes from the Kelani River. We check all the water treatment plants to ensure they are not contaminated. In addition we run a monthly checkup where two hundred samples of water are tested to ensure that the water is not contaminated. Twice a week we run tests to ascertain if the water is tainted or not with heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, arsenic and chromium. Since all distribution points and water sumps undergo a thorough check up prior to distribution, it can be confirmed without fear that the water distributed from Kelani River is not contaminated with arsenic or any other heavy metals and is completely safe for consumption,” Mr. Perera said.
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