Olupattawa Lake Contaminated With Cyanide?

Posted in: Global Water News, Water Contamination
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Richard Pieris and Co. (Photo credit: Hafsa Sabry)

Article courtesy of Hafsa Sabry| October 9, 2015 | The Sunday Leader| Shared as educational material

As contamination of water is continuing issue and the problem not resolved, The Sunday Leader will closely follow it and bring the issue to the consideration of the relevant authorities in a bid to save the surface and ground water in the country. Not only the people of the country, but also the environment and the precious water creatures are being affected by the highly dangerous chemicals, that are dumped in to the river by some of the law violating factories in the country.

The Coca-Cola Beverages Sri Lanka (CCBSL) and Jiffy Products were some of the international companies that were highlighted recently for contaminating the river with risky chemicals for a long period and there is another factory which has been added to the list of contaminators and law violators in the country.

Richard Pieris and Co. PLC is one of the largest and most successful diversified business conglomerates based in Sri Lanka. Being one of the oldest companies with an 80 year old history, it is also one of the largest employment providers in the private sector in the country.  A subsidiary of this company the Arpico Flexifoam however is said to have violated the national environmental legislation while contaminating the Olupattawa Lake in the Maththegoda area where the factory manufactures mattresses.

The issue has been there for a long time but no action had been taken against it by the relevant authorities. The factory in question is said to contaminate the domestic water supply of the area with cyanide, a high risk chemical that is dangerous for humans.

The factory allegedly directs their waste water from the waste water treatment plants in to the river without a proper treatment that contradicts the national standard level of the treated water. There were several pipe lines directed to the Lake from the factory and they can be seen clearly claim the area residences.

The factory also allegedly stores the effluence in barrels to be sprayed on the sand roads on sunny days to reduce the cost of treating the effluence. There were many roads with poor surfaces as a result of spraying the effluence on the roads in the area. If the chemical could damage even the sand roads what would happen to the people who uses it for consumption questioned the environmentalists.

The barrels which were used to store the necessary chemical for their mattress manufacturing were also not properly taken care of as they were stacked on the floor without even a hut or roof to protect them from sun and rain. The CEA however, insisted them to build a safer place within 14 days for the chemical barrels as the leakage from them was also allegedly goes to the Lake on rainy days.

Consequently, the factory has requested two months from the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) to build a safer place for the chemical filled barrels and promised to build drains in the area where the drains were also damaged by the contamination of cyanide. The damaged drains were under construction and expected to be finished by next week.

There are 500 families in the area where people claim that the only source of water for them is the Olupattawa Lake and now they have abandoned using the lake water for consumption as a result of its contamination with cyanide. They now use the water only for dish washing and irrigating purposes but what if the plants that grow near  the contaminated water become poisonous  for consumption, questioned the area residences adding that they cannot afford to use the pipe-borne water for irrigation purposes as the cost will be higher.

Even though, the CEA says the investigations on the Olupattawa Lake contamination are underway proper action is yet to be taken against it by the relevant authorities and the factory still continues to contaminate the lake water freely as we could clearly see the waste water pipe lines that were directed to the river which violates the national environmental act.

Factories which function along the river banks are not allowed to build such pipe lines or dump the waste water directly to the Lake but how come this particular factory obtained the Environmental Protection License (EPL) after building such pipe lines questioned the villagers.

When The Sunday Leader questioned the factory manager of the Arpico Flexifoam Jayanatha  Alwis, responding to the questions  said that this is a made up story of a single person from the area since the drain water from the factory damages his house-wall on days of heavy rain fall adding that he completely denies the allegation against the factory. He also claimed that the factory in that area has functioned almost 20 years but not a single cases or complaints over contamination have been made against the factory. The workers from the area also use Olupattawa lake water to bathe and for irrigational purposes as it doesn’t have any contamination.

He also said that the factory uses five different chemicals including cyanide to make Polyurethane Foam which is the main material to manufacture quality mattresses and the company would not want to waste even a single drop of such chemicals by dumping them to the lake as they are very expensive.

The CEA checks the water samples every time they renew the EPL licenses but not a single test samples were positive with cyanide or any other highly dangerous chemicals.  He also said that they are only two drains for the rain water to flow and as requested by the Urban Council authoritiesarea we are building our own drain and the construction is almost complete.

He also claimed that anyone can inspect the factory whether it contaminates the river water with cyanide or not, adding that they use only fully sealed barrels to store the poisonous chemicals used in their mattress products and they were stored under a hut as directed by the CEA.

CEA

Dr. Sanjaya Ratnayake of the The Pollution Control Division of the CEA claimed that CEA is not aware of such contamination by Arpico Flexifoam but will inspect and conduct investigations if there is any allegation against the company.

However, the deputy director general of north western provincial environmental authority of the CEA, Dissanayake says that the EPL licenses are issued after checking the noise and waste water emissions whether they are at the national standard according to the National Environmental act but, some of the industries violate the law after receiving the EPL hence investigation and inspection on most of the law violating industries are underway. We do not represent the industries and factories in the country but, the environment and the public and we are vigilant in taking action against the law violators and added  that they will inspect the  factories  very soon claimed Dissanayake.

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