This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Published on April 21, 2012 issue in The Daily Star Environment

It has been around three years since the High Court ordered industries indiscriminately discharging waste water to install effluent treatment plants (ETPs) within a year. The court on June 10, 2009 also asked the government (industries secretary) to ensure that no new industry is set up without ensuring proper measures to check pollution.

However, the environmental law enacted in 1997 bars such ‘untreated’ filthy water discharge in waterbodies. It also states that ETPs are a must for those types of industries.

The industries minister on July 19, 2009 stressed that all new industries must have ETPs. And, on March 22 this year, he said they were working on a new industrial law to make ETPs mandatory while setting up new industries.

At a discussion in the port city, the minister said, under the law, industrial areas would be required to have a central system for treating industrial waste and that “industries cannot come up just anywhere”.

The three exemplary central ETPs initiated for three large-scale industrial areas — tannery estate in Savar, Dhaka EPZ and Chittagong EPZ — are yet to be operational despite the court order and the government pledges.

A much-awaited deal on the central ETP in the tannery estate was struck in March and it would take 15 months to set up the plant that would treat water from around the 150 factories to be shifted. But still, there would be around 50 industries left at Hazaribagh.

Currently, the tanneries are allowed to discharge water in canals connecting the Buriganga river, whereas the DEPZ industries either using their own ETPs or discharging waste water into the adjoining areas hindering agriculture and fishing. The CETP in DEPZ is likely to be operational by June this year.

Well, it gives us an outlook of how much ‘less serious’ the government is in restricting the businesses from whimsically harming the environment and putting the waterbodies, canals and rivers under threats with dumping wastes containing chemicals into them.

Because of the ongoing discharging trend, the farmers are losing arable lands while fishermen are losing income. Due to lack of grasslands — as those are already polluted in many places due to contamination of water — people cannot easily feed their cattle.

Serious damage to the waterbodies has triggered contamination of surface water commonly used by people for bathing, washing and drinking. Forced to use the polluted water in some cases, people are falling victim to different water-borne diseases.

Moreover, polluted water provides for perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.

And, one bad thing is that the rivers and other waterbodies and land that have already been contaminated cannot be rectified for a long time.

Though the government claims to have issued licences for setting up ETPs, there have been allegations that many of those already installed remain dysfunctional most of the time to “save money”.

Here, the regulatory body, with its merely inadequate manpower to monitor and enforce the laws, is claimed to have been doing its best to check water pollution and regularly penalizing of the industries. But besides these drives, the authorities are reluctant at the same time, considering the contribution of the industries sectors in economy.

In our country, water is polluted mainly by solid and liquid chemicals and garbage, thrown largely by the industries — mainly the dyeing and washing plants and tanneries; businesses operating on the banks of canals and rivers; government’s cleaning and sewerage service providers; and individuals.

Many main rivers and some near the cities and towns out of around 230 that crisscross the country have been facing dire situation thanks to pollution, encroachment, landfill, sand extraction, erosion and regional misconducts.

These human-made problems are on the rise due to absence of a comprehensive water policy and stern action by the government against illegal encroachers and polluters, as well as mismanagement, misjudgement and lack of coordination among the officials concerned with regard to preventive measures to save the rivers, which have been the source of irrigation, fishing, transportation and drinking water from time immemorial.

Surface water pollution refers to pollution of flowing waters (river, canal etc), and open water (nonflowing) reservoirs (ponds, haors, baors etc.). Flowing water is mainly polluted because of the disposal of untreated waste into the river system from industries and also from cities, whereas the non-flowing water pollution is caused by excessive use of pesticides and soil erosion.

Most of the liquid waste produced by the industries and households in Dhaka are dumped into the Dhaka’s remaining canals and the four rivers around the city. Moreover, the industries operating around the city are hardly treating their waste water before disposing it into flowing water or small waterbodies.

Similar cases are found in the industries in Khulna and Chittagong. The pulp and paper, fertiliser and petroleum industries are dumping waste. The newly booming ship breaking and ship building industries contribute significantly to marine oil pollution.

These threats are not new, but they are still present despite pledges by the government high-ups, and at some places the degraded situation is worsening.

Industry is the largest source of water pollution, as it produces pollutants that are extremely harmful to people and the environment. Moreover, people at many parts of the country these days dump garbage on the banks of waterbodies or flowing rivers and canals and also in drains resulting in contamination of the waters and clogging of the drains. These types of conduct gradually harm the water quality and leave the poor people, dependent on the flowing water, in threats of waterborne diseases.

The shipbreaking and shipbuilding sectors most recently have become one of the fastest growing industries in Bangladesh and have also got the government’s helpful assistance to grow up more. But considering probable expansion in the near future, it is not known whether any proper measures have already been taken to prevent the industries from polluting the rivers and the shore waters further.

Pollutants from industrial sources include asbestos fibres, which can be inhaled and cause illnesses such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, intestinal cancer and liver cancer; lead, a metallic element and a non-biodegradable substance which is so hard to clean up once the environment is contaminated; mercury, another metallic element and a poison.

Nitrates and phosphates come from increased use of fertilisers and are behind a dense growth of plant life; then the decomposition of the plants depletes the supply of oxygen, leading to the decimation of animal life. Sulphur is another non-metallic substance that is harmful for marine life. Oil does not dissolve in water and instead forms a thick layer on the water surface. This can stop marine plants receiving enough light for photosynthesis. It is also harmful for fish and marine birds. Petrochemicals are formed from gas or petrol and can be toxic to marine life.

With the rising trend of industrialisation, concerns about the environment in the future days naturally rise. For experience cannot leave us content as strict measures are not usually put in place before a crisis actually deepens. So, besides promoting regular measures to check environmental degradation among the industrial players, the regulatory bodies should act more effectively — fortifying the related laws and increasing the fines — against the “polluters” to provide the citizens contamination-free water in a clean environment.