Saturday, 12 May 2012

Keenjhar Lake pollution: Sepa fails to fix responsibility

Two government departments had also collected water samples for examination to
check the reported contamination, but their results were pending.
Photo by Sara Faruqi/
KARACHI: While strongly suggesting that the recent contamination in the Keenjhar Lake drain was caused by the release of toxics from a windmill project, an investigative report received by the Sindh Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) on Friday remains short of fixing responsibility on anyone for the incident.

Dr Mohammad Ahsan Siddiqui, the report’s author, was part of the committee set up by the environment secretary to investigate the contamination, which not only killed a number of fishes but also claimed the life of many animals last month.

The team’s terms of reference included fixing of responsibility for the lake contamination. Farhad Shahid, Mujeeb Sheikh, Abdullah Magsi and S.M. Yahya of Sepa were part of the team.

Water samples from the affected drain were not only tested at Sepa’s own laboratory, but also separately examined by Dr Siddiqui, an independent scientist on water analysis. Both tests showed similar findings.
According to Dr Siddiqui’s report submitted to Sepa on Friday, the samples contained high concentration of urea.

The report submitted to Sepa on Friday stated that there could have been only two sources of contamination of the Horilo drain — wastewater from the Nooriabad Industrial Area or waste from the nearby windmill project.

The author ruled out the first possibility on the basis of the lab findings that showed the water was not contaminated with industrial waste.

It was pure rainwater, he said, explaining that the water sample did not contain high levels of TDS (total dissolved solids), a major sign of contamination with industrial effluent.

“On the basis of my lab tests, I can say with confidence that the deaths were caused by high concentration of urea in the drain water.”

He said it could be the empty bags of urea that had washed away by rainwater or someone might have thrown urea into the drain intentionally or unintentionally. But “one must not ignore the possibility that someone might have carried out blasting activity in the hilly area that led to the contamination.“Having said that, we couldn’t find anything objectionable during our visit to the windmill project being run by Fauji Fertilizer Company (FFC),” Dr Siddiqui said.

The samples, he said, also contained traces of chromium.

To prevent recurrence of such incident, the report recommended a number of measures, including the imposition of a ban on explosives use for construction in the area that enjoys the status of a wildlife sanctuary and regular monitoring of the lake and the drains feeding it by relevant departments and independent experts.
Besides, Dr Siddiqui expressed serious concern over the continuous release of industrial waste into the lake through the Kalri Baghar Feeder (K.B. Feeder), one of the major sources of regular water supply to the lake.

The Karachi Water Board and Sewerage Board should also allocate budget for the lake’s monitoring, he suggested in his report.

When contacted, Environment Secretary Mir Hussain Ali told Dawn that he wanted more input from the environment department. He said he needed a comprehensive report. “The terms of reference of the committee warrant a comprehensive investigative report that can help us fix responsibility and I will insist the Sepa director general on this,” said Mr Ali.
“A comprehensive investigative report, which contains specific observation of team members and details of their interaction with locals, is necessary to prevent recurrence of such an incident in future.”
Monitoring mechanism:

In its first meeting held on Friday, a committee set up by the chief secretary to address the issue of Keenjhar Lake pollution decided that a monitoring mechanism of all the drains feeding the Keenjhar Lake, K.B. Feeder as well as the lake itself would be devised and proposed to the government for funding.

Some industrial areas representatives attending the meeting informed the committee about the construction of a combined effluent treatment plant at Kotri. They said it would be operational in June. For Nooriabad, they added, a scheme had been proposed in the annual development programme.

The meeting took notice of the KWSB managing director’s absence. The water board, the participants said, was the prime stakeholder in this issue and “must demonstrate responsibility”.

They said the water board had no lab at the lake from where water was drawn for Karachi. They also expressed concern over the lack of monitoring by the KWSB along the channel taking water to the city.

No comments:

Post a Comment