Is it or Isn’t it? Confusion Over Ground Water Contamination in Chunnakam

Posted in: Drinking Water News, Global Water News, Water Contamination
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School children drinking water from a water tank provided by the state

Article courtesy of Dhaneshi Yatawara | June 10, 2015 | Athirady | Shared as educational material

Two separate investigations were carried out earlier to determine ground water contamination in Chunnakam, which led to confusion. The reports came out in April with one report that ground water was not so badly contaminated and the other claiming the spread of contamination had reduced. However, investigations by the expert committee appointed by the Ministry of Urban Development, Water Supply and Drainage revealed that the ground water in the area surrounding the Chunnakam power plant was contaminated with oil and grease and was unsuitable for use.

Now the committee appointed by the Jaffna Municipal Council states that there was no contamination whatsoever. Villagers are in a quandary, because as far as they are concerned the water they consume tastes different.

Ground water is the main source of drinking water in many areas in the North . Villagers are solely dependent on this source for all their water requirements. When this water is contaminated, villagers have nowhere to go to and have to trek miles to get clean drinking water. Meanwhile, it was found that ground water in the Vallikamam area was polluted due to contamination.

Monitoring

The Central Environment Authority (CEA) was monitoring the situation after receiving complaints that the ground water supply was not fit for drinking purposes. However, after care ful monitoring any spread of contami nation has been ruled out. “Following the initial tests, the CEA continued to carry out tests and showed that pollution had stopped spreading,” CEA Chairman, Professor Lal Dharmasiri said.

“Our officers are continuously monitoring to ascertain whether the concentration of pollutants were declining,” Prof. Dharmasiri explained.

More than a quarter million people living in Chunnakam are affected by this situation. It is the Vallikamam area that is badly affected.

Meanwhile, environmentalists and medical experts warned that due to seepage of petroleum effluents there was bound to be heavy contamination of ground water supplies.

Chunnakam, Thellipalay, Ezhalai, Kumbalavalai, Kattuvan, Mallakam, Uduvil, Inuvil and Thavaddy areas in Valikamam were affected due to contamination. Now there is a fear that contamination may have spread to Kokuvil too. It has been found that even school wells are affected apart from residences. Minister of Urban Development, Water Supply and Drainage, Rauff Hakeem said that according to the initial report by the Ministry’s expert committee, an area of up to two kilometres north of the Chunnakam power plant has been contaminated with oil and grease. Minister Hakeem said that a total of 150 wells were tested. Of these, 109 wells (73%) showed higher levels of oil and grease than the standard amount, while seven (4%) had oil levels below the limit and 34 wells (23%) were not contaminated.

Petroleum effluents

Environmentalists and local medical experts stress that there is sufficient evidence that petroleum effluents that contaminate ground water is seeping from the oil pool of the previously state-run power plant, located in the area owned by the Ceylon Electricity Board.

The power plant was subsequently closed a few years ago and no one knew what happened to the petroleum effluents in the oil pool. Initially allegations were raised against the Northern Power’ power plant as being the source of contamination.

The management of ‘Northern Power’ denied the allegations pointing accusing fingers at the abandoned petroleum pool of the previously state- run power plant. The National Water Supply and Drainage Board and the Jaffna Municipal Council have ensured that the people in the area receive clean drinking water. 225,000 litres of water is transported in six bowsers on a daily basis. The situation is sensitive in Vallikamam, as lack of water for daily needs has become a huge problem for residents.

The authorities were notified of the situation in late January this year, when people raised their voice demanding a solution, the Government through the District Secretariat then began supplying fresh, clean water to the affected areas in bowsers. however, they say they are not used to getting water from bowsers and tanks. According to the Jaffna District Secretary, Suntharam Aruminayaham water tanks are filled daily and people store water in large containers. “Daily over 250 water tanks are filled,” Aruminayaham said. These large tanks are set up by the District Secretariat to provide water for the people.

Still there is a lack of water for the villagers daily needs. It has been found that it’s not only crude oil pollutants that has seeped into the well water. Research carried out by Dr. Thushyanthy Mikunthan, Dr. Meththika Vithanage, Dr. S. Pathmarajah, Mr. Ranjith Ariyaratne and Dr. H. Manthrithilake also identified high levels of nitrates in the wells, particularly the agro wells – known as ‘andiya’ wells with its unique lever structure. The entire ground water network of the Jaffna peninsula has been affected by salt water intrusion and polluted by agro chemicals over the years.It is also reported that immediate steps were being taken to bring the situation under control.

The Ministry of Environment was urgently looking into the matter. People need a permanent solution before the situation turns into another Rathupaswala incident.

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