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Environmentalists wading through Polluted waters of Kelani River

4 May 2021 12:07 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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 Sarooka Oya contaminated with chemicals

 

 

  • Kelani River is continuously contaminated with various chemicals, feces and carbonic matter
  • Sarooka Oya, a tributary to the Kelani river, has been contaminated as well
  • The destruction of biodiversity has killed 59 species of fish in areas between Kitulgala and Kaduwela 
  • The PH value of the river water has changed indicating the presence of the chemical in water

 

Electricity plays a major role in the development of a country. Many development activities are currently underway including construction of powerhouses targeted to provide electricity to everyone. However, if these projects, irrespective of their usefulness, destroy the environment even prior to them being used, such projects cannot be accepted. Broadlands Hydropower Project (BHP) close to Katalian area located in 134 Grama Niladhari Division in Kitulgala South is a classic example of such an activity. A chemical used in the construction of this power plant has entered the Kelani River killing fish nearby and affecting people who consume water from the river. Many programmes have been initiated to halt the addition of poisonous chemicals and waste to the Kelani River based on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s concept titled ‘Surakimu Ganga’. While these programmes are underway, State and private companies engaged in monitoring construction activities of the BHP continue adding chemicals to the river, the villagers said. Sarooka Oya, a tributary to the Kelani River, has been contaminated as well. The Central Environmental Authority has issued necessary guidelines for the disposal of liquid waste of projects based on rivers. Moreover, the law does not allow any hotel or house to contaminate water resources. The companies involved in the construction of Broadlands power plant are clearly violating the CEA guidelines. 

 

  

 

The construction work of the BHP which began five years ago is still in progress. The environmental damage caused to the Kelani River  by the chemical used to harden concrete laid at the construction project can be witnessed if one visits the place. The President of the Environmental Protection Organization in Kitulgala Tourist Zone Sam Jayananda has made complaints with regards to this issue to the CEA and Yatiyantota Divisional Secretary.


Sam Jayananda said that the Kelani River is continuously contaminated with various chemicals, feces and carbonic matter. As the number of tourists has decreased due to COVID-19, the contamination of the river by hotels has reduced to some extent. “We conducted a sample test on river water with a medical team in January 2016. The test proved the presence of the Coliform bacteria in water near Kitulgala. We informed the relevant institutes after which measures were taken with regards to that,” he added.


The current situation is even more serious. The chemical liquid known as MasterROC SA 160 is used to harden concrete in constructions. Sources reveal that 16 barrels containing 200 litres each are used per day. More than 1000 barrels have been used with additional fibres known as Cojubel which are similar to noodles. These fibres never decay. Two buckets of these fibres are mixed in 0.5 m3 of concrete to which the chemical is added. The remaining water in the concrete containing the chemical together with the fibres are added to the river. The PH value of the river water has changed indicating the presence of the chemical in water. This has killed fish and brought an end to species of fish endemic to Kitulgala area such as Thola Ratu Waligowwa and Kitulgala Salaya. Its effect on people is yet to be discovered.


“Hotels from Kitulgala to Yatiyantota and many people in nearby villages obtain drinking water directly from the river. People also bathe in the river. The Kelani River provides drinking water to people in Colombo. And the fact that minute particles of non-decaying fibres and chemicals have already entered the Kelani waters have given rise to doubts in the minds of the people. We are not against the development of the country, but we will fight against environmental destruction,” Jayananda added. 


Ruwan Dhammika, Shantha Udaya Kumara, Thushara Hettiarachchi, R. P. D. Jayantha, Seetha Ranjani, Asanka Kumudu, W. G. Gunawati and H. A. Dharmasena are a few members of the Katalian community who have also sided with these environmental organizations. 


Shantha Udaya Kumara said that the locals had informed the Yatiyantota Divisional Secretary and Kegalle district Central Environment Authority with regards to this. “Recently, the Divisional Secretary made a visit and she took two letters in my possession without even getting off the vehicle. Environmental organizations and villagers staged a protest against the discharge of chemicals to the river. Thereafter, the chemical was placed in a pit about 15 feet deep. The sand barriers which were present earlier have now been removed and the chemical and fibres are added once again to Sarooka Oya. The Oya is creamy in colour and there is no presence of fish. Our bodies become itchy, eyes painful and the skin is vulnerable to diseases if we bathe in the river. It is also difficult to breathe. Contaminated water also causes cracked heels,” said Shantha Udaya Kumara. “Lorries transport the chemical once in every two days. We informed the Yatiyantota Divisional Secretariat, but saw no results. She does not answer our calls and the chemical is being added to Sarooka Oya every day. After we objected the lorries were loaded with rock particles at the back with the chemical water in the front and the content was dumped to the Kelani River near the plant area in front of Base Camp hotel. Food waste of Chinese workers are also dumped in the river,” they added.


Water containing that chemical cannot be added to rivers, the guidelines specified by the manufacturer of the chemical state clearly. Based on the response of the officials connected to the plant, it is doubtful whether they take the guidelines seriously. 

 


The chemical doesn’t get mixed with river water -BHP Project Director 


BHP Project Director- Kamal Laksiri said that various chemicals have been used for the project during a period of five years to harden concrete. 


“Some concrete structures should be hardened in one day while others require three days. So we add different chemicals. These chemicals are mixed at the time when the concrete is added. As a result of cement being deposited at the bottom of the Kelani River near the plant, it appears creamy. After the concrete has been added the chemical doesn’t mix with the water unless the concrete breaks. We will be providing electricity. Hotels nearby add a huge amount of waste to the river and nobody will investigate on such matters. The remaining water is sent to a tank from where it is added to the river. Where else can I dump the water? The chemical doesn’t get mixed with river water and bring death to the fish. We tested this chemical in India. Bring the necessary reports to prove the presence of the chemical. There is a misunderstanding with regards to this,” Laksiri added.


 

Yatiyantota Divisional Secretary Priyani Pethangoda said that she had received complaints regarding the issue from a person named Sam. “I went to inspect the area. The water is first sent to a tank and then to the river. I did not see the chemical being sent to the Oya. Since I went there on a rainy day the colour of the water was creamy,” she said. The following are excerpts of an interview done with Priyani Pethangoda 

 


 

‘I did not get off the vehicle as it was raining’
-Priyani Pethangoda 


Q How could you see anything? After all you did not even get off the vehicle?


I went with the MP of the area and some other officers. I did not get off the vehicle as it was raining.


QYou could have seen whether the chemical is added or not, had you got off the vehicle. 


A I could not get off the vehicle due to the rain

.
Q How can you say that the water mixed with the chemical is sent to the river through a tank?


A The plant authorities told me that.


Q What were the steps taken to halt that?


A I informed the CEA. I would take the next step based on their recommendations. Also Government officers involved in constructing plants should focus more on environment.

 


 

NO COMPLAINTS-CEA  


CEA Chairman Siripala Amarasinghe said that he hasn’t received any complaints from any party with regards to the plant. “If the relevant details are obtained this issue could be addressed using a special investigating team. Even a Government institute will not be allowed to destroy catchment areas or the environment under the pretext of development activities outside our recommendations,” Amarasinghe added.

 

The place where concrete is made
Pix by Samantha Perera

 


Environmentalist, Dr. Raveendra Kariyawasam who took the initiative in objecting to the addition of chemicals to the Kelani River and presented a set of guidelines with regard to the issue said that Master ROC SA 160 is a chemical produced in Canada. “Aluminum Sulfate is its main component. This is made from ethanol and dust. The manufacturer has issued a set of guidelines to be followed when using this chemical. Accordingly, if the skin contacts above three milligrams of this chemical it would be wounded. If the chemical enters the body the interior could be wounded. It can cause blindness and the chemical should be used while being dressed in the proper safety equipment. Even a cloth that has come in contact with the chemical is not allowed to be worn again. If clothes make contact with the chemical they must be washed properly. If the chemical enters the eyes one must wash them well and see a doctor immediately. The guidelines also state that the liquid waste should be released at a safe place and shouldn’t be mixed in rivers, streams, underground water streams, places where animals live and in food. If the chemical is released to a river, which is used by people, it could lead to a grave situation. The chemical disposed in large quantities might enter the body causing headache, cracking of heels, breathing difficulties and problems connected with eyesight. The effect on people who use river water should be further investigated. When the chemical is released to the river in large amounts, the PH value changes increasing the acidity and decreasing the percentage of Oxygen. This leads to deaths of fish and the destruction of biodiversity directly destroying environment. The PH value that should be present in clear water is unbalanced. Those who obtain drinking water from the river may have experienced its direct influence. This was able to kill 59 species of fish from Kitulgala to Kaduwela with the destruction of biodiversity. There are around 30 species of endemic fish living there. We may not be able to prevent them from dying. This would turn out to be a disaster,” he added. Dr. Kariyawasam inquired as to why liquid waste is allowed to be released to the river when present guidelines clearly suggest doing the opposite. We contacted National Water Supply and Drainage Board Chairman Nishantha Ranatunga to inquire about the effect of liquid waste being released to the Kelani River; which provides drinking water. Ranatunga said that when water is purified for drinking purposes it will contain no chemicals and people shouldn’t be alarmed.

 


 


We conducted a sample test on river water with a medical team in January 2016. The test proved the presence of the Coliform bacteria in water near Kitulgala. We informed the relevant institutes after which measures were taken with regards to that

President of the Environmental Protection Organization in Kitulgala Tourist Zone Sam Jayananda

 


 

The sand barriers which were present earlier have now been removed and the chemical and fibres are added once again to Sarooka Oya. The Oya is creamy in colour and there is no presence of fish. Our bodies become itchy, eyes painful and the skin is vulnerable to diseases if we bathe in the river. It is also difficult to breathe. Contaminated water also causes cracked heels

Shantha Udaya Kumara


The water is first sent to a tank and then to the river. I did not see the chemical being sent to the Oya. Since I went there on a rainy day the colour of the water was creamy

Yatiyantota Divisional Secretary Priyani Pethangoda


If the skin contacts above three milligrams of this chemical it would be wounded. If the chemical enters the body the interior could be wounded. It can cause blindness and the chemical should be used while being dressed in the proper safety equipment

Environmentalist Dr. Raveendra Kariyawasam

 


If the relevant details are obtained this issue could be addressed using a special investigating team. Even a Government institute will not be allowed to destroy catchment areas or the environment under the pretext of development

CEA Chairman Siripala Amarasinghe

 


 

When water is purified for drinking purposes it will contain no chemicals and people shouldn’t be alarmed

National Water Supply and Drainage Board Chairman Nishantha Ranatunga

 


 

The chemical doesn’t get mixed with river water and bring death to the fish. We tested this chemical in India. Bring the necessary reports to prove the presence of the chemical. There is a misunderstanding with regards to this

BHP Project Director Kamal Laksiri


 

 
 
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  Comments - 1

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  • sacre blieu Wednesday, 05 May 2021 09:20 AM

    This state of pollution started all over the country many years ago with the introduction of all kinds chemical composites , and the ongoing habit of dumping refuse into rivers also contributed to it. When political appointees are made, attention towards the damage is neglected, but ceremony after ceremony is initiated by the administrators conniving with he powers that be,to waste public money to the detriment of main issue. And,now we walk the tightrope with weak bodies ending in the deep ditch. Once again,deal makers will get the contracts for the clean up, that will see the worse happening.


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