Nema on spot over L.Victoria pollution by Chinese textile company
- Written by THE OBSERVER TEAM
A fresh report by environmentalists under Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU) has faulted the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) for inactiveness as a Chinese textile firm called Sunbelt Industries continues to pollute Lake Victoria, much to the detriment of communities at Jinja-based Walukuba and Masese landing sites.
As a result, thousands of residents have suffered irreparable damage and injuries from the lake pollution.
The report, titled: The status of industrial pollution by textile industries in Uganda, investigated industries along the shores of Lake Victoria at Walukuba-Masese as a case study to highlight how pollution in the lake affects the economic and health wellbeing of nearby communities.
Sunbelt Industries is owned by Keswala Group of companies and from this site, both water and soil samples collected revealed that the discharge pipes of wastewater effluent from the factory have been buried and covered by water. The effluent thus goes directly into lake water outside the fence.
“There are concerns from the fishermen that fish stocks around the area have dropped, a factor they attributed majorly to chemical pollution from Keshwala, and Sunbelt Textile Industries. The community also observes that in some instances, fish collected near the fence of Sunbelt industries usually smells of oil/petroleum when boiled,” reveals part of the findings.
Efforts to talk to Sunbelt officials were futile as they did not respond to our repeated calls. Interviews with area locals also revealed that sometimes Sunbelt discharges an unknown substance that contaminates water and in turn, it burns and irritates people’s feet when they step into the water nearby.
It was also observed that one time, crops grown near Sunbelt factory’s perimeter wall always dry from suspected pollution.
World over, textile industries generate one-fifth of the world’s industrial water pollution and use 20,000 chemicals, many of them carcinogenic, to make clothes. Incidentally, most of the world’s textile factories are in developing countries where governments cannot keep pace with the industry's massive pollution footprint.
The main damages caused by the textile industry to the environment, however, are those resulting from the discharge of untreated effluents into the water bodies, which normally constitute 80 per cent of the total emissions produced by this industry.
In the composition of most of the residual waters of the textile industry, there are relatively high levels of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and chemical oxygen demand (COD).
The greater emphasis should be attributed to the large amount of non-biodegradable organic compounds, especially textile dyes. Therefore, the laboratory results from Sunbelt are indicative of the toxicity of the effluent discharged into the lake.
According to the report, the dyes are soluble organic compounds, especially those classified as reactive, direct, basic, and acids. They exhibit high solubility in water making it difficult to remove them by conventional methods.
One of its properties is the ability to impart colour to a given substrate because of the presence of chromophoric groups in its molecular structures. The colour associated with textile dyes not only causes aesthetic damage to the water bodies but also prevents the penetration of light through water, which leads to a reduction in the rate of photosynthesis and dissolved oxygen levels affecting the entire aquatic biota.
The report further notes that the textile dyes also act as toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic agents, persist as environmental pollutants and cross entire food chains providing biomagnification, such that organisms at higher trophic levels show higher levels of contamination compared to their prey.
The conclusion from the report shows that the level of pollution is indicative of the fact that Sunbelt industries do not have any measures in place to mitigate the impact of discharge in the water.
Therefore, this exposes the entire communities of Walukuba and Masese to the adverse effects of pollution by textile. Furthermore, the level of pollution found in the samples shows that Sunbelt is not treating its waste to the required standard before discharging it into the lake, hence the soil and water pollution.
So in light of the finding of this research, the report concludes that Sunbelt Textiles industries operations ought to be halted pending a thorough environmental audit by Nema.
Reached out for a comment, Nema spokesperson Naomi Karekaho noted that they have written to Sunbelt to comply with the set rules.
“We are going to make a final inspection of the facility soon to see to it that it fulfills our minimum standards,” she said.
It is on this background that PROBICOU is advocating for Nema’s swift action to ensure that the textiles industries comply with the standards for discharge effluent with immediate effect because lack of compliance poses a public health threat to the surrounding communities.
PROBICOU further reasons that Nema should carry out routine environmental inspection, request for the Environmental Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report, study the conditions of the EIA certificate, and study the mitigations measures in the mitigation plan for selected industries such as Sunbelt to ascertain whether they are complying with the conditions.
“Nema should revisit the conditions for the ESIA report that were given to these industries and require them to operate according to the environmental standards. In view of the above findings and conclusions, Nema should direct the closure and or suspension of operations for Sunbelt Industries, until the factory sets up to set up an effluent treatment plant acceptable to the standards as set in law."
On the other hand, PROBICOU wants environmental agencies such as the Directorate of Water Resources Management, Fisheries Research Institute, and the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) to step up their oversight role and monitoring of the environmental impact of the factories along the shores of Lake Victoria.