Archive for the ‘Water Pollution’ Category

Down to earth in soil fertility with bio-fertilisers

October 7, 2013
Imported destructive agrochemicals make way for home grown solutions that are eco friendly and harmless – by Malaka Rodrigo 

The harmful impact of misuse and overuse of agrochemicals have been highlighted in articles published in the Sunday Times in the past few weeks. As an alternative, use of bio-fertilisers which is a method of directly applying living microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi to fertilise the soil is becoming popular among farmers, even though these too have to be used with care, point out experts.

Research activites pertaining to vermiwash being carried out at the IFS, Kandy

“Bio-fertilisers are a good nature-friendly way of enriching soil with nutrients by establishing natural nutrient cycles. However, as many foreign bio-fertiliser products are being introduced to farmers, without being tested, there is a risk of introducing harmful organisms too into the country,” warns Prof. Gamini Seneviratne of the Institute of Fundamental Studies (IFS), Kandy. “These harmful micro-organisms can be invasive, spreading fast and causing enough damage,” he added.

Numerous species of soil bacteria which grow on or around roots, stimulate plant growth. Some of these microorganisms such as Rhizobium bacteria fix atmospheric nitrogen into soil and Pseudomonas Bacteria makes Phosphorus soluble, so plants can easily absorb them. Strains of these beneficial soil micro-organisms cultured in laboratories, come into the market as a bottled liquid. These bio-fertilisers can be mixed with compost and used in organic farming or as a supplement for chemical fertilisers. This can reduce the use of chemical fertilizers by at least by 25%.

In Sri Lanka, already there are companies producing bio-fertilisers. However, companies that import bio-fertilisers need to be closely supervised, as they cannot guarantee that imported bio-fertilisers are harmless. Hence, there should be a mechanism to monitor the quality and safety of the imported bio-fertilisers, emphasizes Prof. Seneviratne.

The IFS researcher stresses that the country can benefit from bio-fertilisers, because they are low cost, renewable sources of plant nutrients which can reduce use of chemical fertilisers. Prof. Seneviratne also revealed that an IFS project conducted in collaboration with the Tea Research Institute (TRI) is on the verge of introducing a new, patented formula of bio-fertiliser known as “Biofilmed bio-fertilisers” (BFBF), which has been rigorously tested for more than eight years.

Trials with tea revealed that the new fertiliser can actually reduce use of chemical fertiliser by 50%. It is to be introduced for commercial development by the end of the year. Developing BFBFs for other crops is under way. There are bio-pesticides too, which use similar techniques, but Dr Anura Wijesekara of the Pesticide Registrar’s office confirmed that Sri Lanka does not import bio-pesticides.

‘Vermiwash’ is a solution that contains extracts of earthworm enriched soil. The ‘Green Revolution’ initiated in the 1960s had promoted agrochemicals usage which Sri Lanka embraced. But once convinced of the ill-effects of agrochemicals, agro experts are returning to nature’s way. Earthworms to return fertiliser to the soil

At school we are taught that earthworms are a part of soil biodiversity that help enrich soil fertility. But, to promote the green revolution, we continue to use agrochemicals which kill these friendly creatures. Realising the important services earthworms provide to the soil, agricultural experts have experimented in getting the services rendered by these earthworms, into a specific fertiliser.

“Vermiwash’ is a liquid extract from soil worked on by earthworms. This contains friendly microbes and enzymes that stimulate plant growth,” Dr Gamini Hitinayake of Peradeniya University said.

A microbiological study of vermiwash has revealed that it contains nitrogen-fixing bacteria too. It is therefore an effective way of getting the nutrients back into the soil.

It contains enzymes- secretions of earthworms, which would stimulate the growth and yield of crops, and even develop resistance in crops.

Pointing out that vermiwash was not difficult to make and could be used for home gardens, Dr. Hitinayake gave the following steps:

  • Make small holes at the bottom of a barrel or large container mounted on a little platform.
  • Introduce soil containing earthworms into the container.
  • Introduce drips of water from the top onto the earthworm-rich soil, while collecting the runoff water from the bottom.
  • Mix this with water and apply to the crops.

Published on SundayTimes on 29.09.2013

Excessive use of agrochemicals pollutes groundwater in many places

September 27, 2013

Last month, the Sunday Times highlighted that Sri Lanka’s farmers were over-using agro-chemicals, and warned that it could ultimately penetrate into the groundwater. This has now been confirmed by a study conducted by the Water Resources Board (WRB).

WRB Director General R.S. Wijesekare revealed that chemical compounds such as Nitrates, Phosphates and heavy metals were found in excess in many places in the districts they surveyed. The survey covered Jaffna, Ampara, Puttalam, Anuradhapura, Matale and Gampaha districts. Excessive Nitrate compounds were in samples taken from Kalpitiya and Jaffna, while Phosphate was in abundance in samples taken in Ampara. In samples from Anuradhapura, heavy metals such as Arsenic were found in quantities exceeding standard levels, he confirmed.

Some of the agrochemicals will be absorbed by plants, but most of it will collect on the soil or be washed away as runoff. Part of it leaches through to the groundwater. What goes in will come out, so not only the people in the immediate vicinity, but others in the area too could be affected by contamination.

Water samples from 30 Secretariat Divisions covering these districts have been collected periodically, under this study initiated in 2011. Mr Wijesekare said that the results have highlighted the need for some control of using agro chemicals. He said that WRB with other agencies such as the Agriculture department and farmers are planning to conduct a program in Puttalam to educate farmers to use the Agrochemicals responsibly while monitoring the ground water periodically to check for improvements of the quality. He also said the survey has been done on a Pilot scale and are trying to do the exercise covering the whole island.

Head of Sri Lanka programme of International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Dr Herath Manthreetilake has also stressed the importance of having such programmes at least in priority areas prone to groundwater pollution.

He also pointed out that periodic monitoring has to be continuous, to get a clear idea of pollution levels. Isolated incidents of chemical spills on depleted groundwater reserves due to drought, can increase the concentration of chemicals, so the results may not be entirely accurate – but data captured periodically on the groundwater condition can give a better picture. Dr Manthreetilake said that groundwater in most industrial countries such as Japan, are polluted beyond usage. Therefore, to avoid falling into the same trap, it is important to continue with a proper monitoring mechanism of groundwater sources.

Published on SundayTimes on 22.09.2013 

Setup polluting industries in industrial zone: Environmentalists

August 19, 2013

It is reported that the President has ordered the Rathupaswala factory be relocated in an industrial zone. Environmentalists agree that industries which have the potential to pollute the environment should be located in industrial zones.

“It is better to set up polluting industries in industrial zones instead of in populated areas that are environmentally sensitive,” stressed Hemantha Withanage of Environment Justice. He pointed out that the first level of waste water and other pollutants needs to undergo primary treatment by the factories themselves, and another secondary process before releasing the effluent into the environment. Locating all the industries in a central area also makes it easier to regulate and monitor the process.

However, it is noticed that some of the non-polluting industries too are set up within industrial zones, which is a waste of resources, according to Avanthi Jayatilake of EML Consultants. Being an Environment Professional specialising in Waste Management, Avanthi lists out rubber processing, chemical processing, paint industry and garment dyeing as some of the industries that have a large pollution footprint. These should be located within industrial zones, he urged.

Avanthi also points out that some of the small scale facilities – such as electroplating – can emit harmful substances such as heavy metals. Even service stations and petrol sheds could cause environmental damage in the long run. So he suggests setting up ‘Mini Industrial Zones’ for polluting facilities. Avanthi who previously worked under the Central Environment Authority (CEA) is of the view that the CEA alone would not be able to monitor every industry in Sri Lanka, hence his suggestion to set up mini zones – perhaps one for 4 or 5 villages – which will facilitate greater reduction in pollution by small-scale operators.

However, there are also complaints regarding waste management within these industrial zones. A Sunday Times report on Moratuwa University’s Civil Engineering website titled ‘Industrial Waste Management: Free Trade Zones in Sri Lanka’, mentions of continuous complaints reported from the public, as well as ministries, on improper waste management practices prevailing within the free trade zones.

The report lists inadequate knowledge on industrial solid waste recovery, processing and disposal, profit oriented private sector, lack of coordination among internal bodies, loopholes in legal provision as some of the issues leading to failure in waste disposal.

Unawareness of new industrial waste management strategies too leads to not having efficient waste management system. “Monitoring is the key to avoid pollution by industries, whether they are within industrial zones or outside” says Institute of Environmental Professionals of Sri Lanka (IEPSL) President Prof Hemanthi Ranasinghe.

Published on SundayTimes on 18.08.2013

Not just Rathupaswela, many more areas polluted by factory waste

Following allegations that waste material from a company was polluting the water in Rathupaswala, Weliwerivya, similar cases of environmental pollution have been reported from various parts of the country. The other areas include Ekala, Kadalawala-Wattala close to Bopitiya, Jaela, Katunayake, Biyagama, Muthurajawela and Galle, environmentalists say. – By Mirudala Thambiah 

A resident in Ekala shows the yellow water that comes from his tube well

When the Sunday Times visited the Kadalawala area where charges have been levelled at a palm oil company for polluting the environment people complained of breathing difficulties because of the black fumes emanating from the factory. “My wife and son have severe phlegm. They have been to many doctors and they all say they are being affected by some pollutant in the air,” a resident who didn’t want to be named said.

He said vllagers had protested against the factory urging authorities to move the factory to another place. But the protests came to a halt when the villagers were threatened by unidentified groups. He said the soil too in Kadalawala area appeared to be contaminated as crop cultivation especially banana and coconut had been affected. “Even tube well water is contaminated. We cannot use the water even to wash clothes unlike three or four years ago.

One could get the heavy pungent smell of oil in the air. “Previously the factory used gas to boil the oil but recently they have been using firewood to bring down the cost. After they started using firewood air pollution has increased and the smell is very strong,” the villager said.

According to villagers India had rejected a proposal to set up this palm oil factory therefore it was built in Sri Lanka. Environmentalist Ravindra Kariyawasam too confirmed this. Meanwhile another resident complained that the factory recycled waste thrice a month causing severe air pollution. He said the activities were carried out late in the nights and early mornings.

In another instance a paint factory on St. Anthony’s Mawatha in Ekala has been found to be dumping effluents that are allegedly polluting the water in the area. Most of the residents in this area depend on well and tube well water. According to the residents living in the vicinity of the factory they had found yellow water in the wells and tube wells.

The residents said they had agitated against the company and had lodged many complaints with necessary authorities. Following this the paint company had provided area residents with drinking water in huge tubs.  A year ago the residents had obtained a waterline from the Water Supply Board. But the people say they cannot pay for the water as they are low-income earners. Therefore they continue to use the ‘yellow water’ for their day-to-day activities like bathing and washing except for drinking. Sarathkumara a resident said some people had loss of teeth, skin allergies because of the yellow water. The water also has a bad smell he added.

The Palm oil Factory. Pix by Susantha Liyanawatte

In another case in Galle, water contamination has been reported due to chemical waste released from shoe factories. The well water had turned black affecting more than 30 people who are reportedly suffering from cancer, the Sunday Times learns.  According to Environmentalist Ravindra Kariyawasam, National Coordinator, Centre for Environment and Nature Studies, sme 200 families living in Imaduwa and Dorape in Galle have been affected by this ‘black water’. A complaint has been lodged at the Central Environment Authority to test the water and soil in the area.

Mr. Kariyawasam said the factory owners have promised to solve the problem if the contamination was found to be due the effluents from the factory. Hemantha Withanage , Director Centre for Environmental Justice said although most of the factories in Ekala and Jaela hold an Environmental Protection License they dump asbestos and other kinds of waste in the marshy land in the area.

“Many of the residents in these areas are unaware that asbestos has been used to fill their lands but assume it is being filled with cement. They are unaware of the contamination. Ordinary people don’t know about PH levels in their drinking water,” he said.
Mr. Withanage stressed that the water and soil should be tested by Public Health Inspectors in affected areas to test the PH levels. But this is not carried out. Even the CEA has district level offices to examine environment issues yet this does not happen.

Mr. Withanage added that the Environmental Protection Licence is renewed every two to three years but it should be renewed every year and the CEA should inspect it.  He charged that the law enforcement aspect of the CEA was not strong enough.

However Dr. R.M.S.K Rathnayake Director of Environment Pollution Control Division attached to the CEA, said that the National Environmental Act was being amended to bring in stronger regulatory powers. “Now an order has to be obtained by the court to take action against an alleged factory, but after the amendment the laws will be stronger and the CEA would be able to take action directly,” he said.

According to the National Environmental Act a six month imprisonment or a fine not less than Rs.10, 000 or both is imposed on those found guilty. CEA statistics reveal 72 complaints relating waste-disposal have been reported so far this year

Who pollutes Rathupaswala water..?

August 12, 2013
Pollution by industrial effluents, an ever present hazard for those living in the vicinity of factories 

The agitation for clean water in Rathupaswala has ended with deaths, injuries and damage to property. A joint investigation is being conducted by related government agencies to ascertain who is at fault for the water pollution. However, environmentalist Sajeewa Chamikara of Environmental Conservation Trust points his finger directly at the factory, for the improper release of industrial waste, as a cause for this catastrophe.

water contaminationHe alleged that the factory has been releasing waste water into the environment without being properly treated, which rendered the area’s ground water acidic. He also blames Central Environment Authority (CEA) and Board of Investment (BOI) for not properly monitoring the factory’s process.

The problem in Rathupaswala emerged when villagers requested the Water Supply and Drainage Board (WSDB) to test the water, after several of them had fallen ill, as they felt something was wrong with the quality of water. Results revealed that the pH level of the water was lower than 7 (normal), which means it is acidic. Pure water has a pH very close to 7; but the water in Rathupaswala had a PH level around 4, as alleged by the villagers.

Villagers then lodged a formal complaint at the regional office of the CEA in Gampaha. CEA Director General, Dr Saranga Alahapperuma talking to the Sunday Times confirms that the agency’s Gampaha regional office has received a formal complaint on July 16, and next day they sent a team to investigate. Later, a BOI investigation was started. The DG said that an investigation of this nature takes at least a fortnight for the results. Unfortunately, events unfolded on August 2 taking 3 lives. Now a joint investigation is being conducted by the CEA, the BOI, the WSDB, the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) and experts from several universities. He said the results would be released by next week.

The factory at the center of the controversy is Dipped Products Ltd (DPL) owned by the Hayleys Group. which was set up in 1994 in Nedungamuwa, Weliweriya, as a BOI project. The plant manufactures Latex Gloves by processing natural rubber, which involves many chemicals. As a result, the processes generate many harmful industrial waste that require treatment to dilute their harmful nature, before release into the environment. There is a provision that the BOI can issue Environmental Protection Licences (EPL) under the National Environment Act, after obtaining concurrence from the CEA, and the factory has been offered initial EPL.

Weliweriya protesters with Handwritten Placards - one says Nadungamuwa Raja - a tusker honored by carrying Dalada Karaduwa that was stationed in close proximity stopped drinking well water for few weeks

Weliweriya protesters with Handwritten Placards – one says Nadungamuwa Raja – a tusker honored by carrying Dalada Karaduwa that was stationed in close proximity stopped drinking well water for few weeks as per villagers

CEA DG admitted that approval for the EPL’s renewal, which is an annual requirement, is usually granted on reports submitted by the company seeking same, unless there is a complaint, when the CEA then conducts investigations. He also admitted the importance of having independent analyses from time to time, which mechanism the agency is looking at in the future.

Meanwhile, it is also alleged that the sludge – or residual materials left from industrial wastewater – has been dumped in the area sans any precautions. When the Sunday Times queried about this, from DPL Managing Director Dr Mahesha Ranasoma, he said that, prior to January 2012, the factory was disposing solid waste at landfills known to the Pradeshiya Sabha (PS). From January 2012, the company entered into an agreement with GeoCycle (Holcim Lanka Ltd.) whereby, GeoCycle disposes the solid waste, with the exception of wood ash, unutilised wood chips and waste cotton, which are disposed at PS approved sites.

Denying all the other allegations, Dr Ranasoma said the factory complies with CEA and BOI standards for releasing rubber industry effluents to the surface water, and operates under the renewed EPL. He pointed out that for the processing of rubber, Alkaline chemicals are mainly used, not the acids. So the pH value always remains higher than 7, should pollution occur. He added that, DPL does not use any acid for the manufacture of rubber gloves. However, they use a commercially purchased acidic material (10%-30% mixture of Nitric and Sulphuric acid) for mould washing. This acid is always re-used by topping up with fresh material. If we do need to dispose it, we treat it the same way as the mould washings described above.

Dr Ranasoma also said that their effluent water quality is regularly tested by the National Building and Research Organization (NBRO) every three months. He said they are disposing the treated effluent according to EPL standards, to designated soakage areas which is their coconut land. Their treatment plant is designed to cater to up to five plants, according to Dr Ranasoma.

It is claimed that Nedungamuwa, Weliweriya, is an area where shallow water could have a natural pH less than 6.5. Chemistry professor O.A. Illeperuma says there is a possibility of the soil being naturally acidic in these areas due to the presence of laterite, which is an iron rich mineral.

The red soil resulting from the disintegration of these lateritic rocks is fairly widespread in the Western province including the Gampaha district and also around Nugegoda and Maharagama. Hence, the village derives its name “Rathupaswala” from the presence of the red soil, opines Prof Illeperuma. Such soils have high concentrations of iron- in the ferric form – by bonding with water (hydrolysis), which renders it acidic.

Prof Illeperuma too says that he cannot understand how this type of pollution has arisen all of a sudden, if this theory is true. However, in order to verify this, it is necessary to do a comprehensive water analysis programme of the affected and surrounding areas, points out Prof Illeperuma. So, there seems to be more questions than answers at Weliweriya as to who the real polluter is. But whoever it is, the fact of the matter is quality of the water has deteriorated, to the detriment of the welfare and wellbeing of the people of Rathupaswala.

Industrial water pollution a regulatory failure: Environmentalists 

Hemantha Withanage of the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) reveals there are hundreds of such cases of pollution linked to industries in Sri Lanka, and highlights the need for preventive actions through regular independent monitoring.

Whoever is responsible for the water pollution in Rathupaswala, the incident is also a clear indication that regulatory measures are not being properly implemented, making it a dire need for its strengthening to prevent future pollution case, points out Mr Withanage. He said the issue of environmental licences also needs to be evaluated, and the water sources in the vicinity of factories, notwithstanding their effluents, regularly monitored.

Mr Hemantha insists that Water Quality undergo comprehensive testing for an accurate extent of pollution. For example, Tolerance Limits for Industrial Wastewater in Sri Lanka lists 22 parameters including harmful chemicals such as arsenic, and pH level is only one of them.

He says these tests have to be conducted independently, which, if the CEA had done, this problem would not have gone this far. He also was displeased with the process of issuing EPLs, pointing out that the process is not properly governed due to corruption.

Environmental Organisations too have a role to play, some concerned citizens points out, taking India as an example. Some of the green NGOs in India, such as Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) conduct their own investigations in air and water pollutions. These kinds of independent investigations should be done in Sri Lanka too.

However, these tests are costly, and to check all the parameters, the test costs Rs 39,000, added Mr Hemantha. 

Published on SundayTimes on 11.08.2013