Chinese textile firm on the spot for dumping hazardous chemicals into Lake Victoria

Chinese textile firm on the spot for dumping hazardous chemicals into Lake Victoria

By Wod Omoro

Jinja – The local residents in Walukuba and Masese landing sites in Jinja city are at risk of suffering from several acute and chronic toxic effects as a result of heavy metals in the lake owing to pollution by a Chinese textile factory.

A report by Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU) ‘The status of Industrial Pollution by Textile Industries in Uganda,’ released in May this year a copy of this publication is in possession of indicates that Sunbelt industries, do not have any measures in place to mitigate the impact of discharge in the water exposing the entire community living around the area to the adverse effects of pollution by textile.

“The presence of heavy metals such as lead, zinc and cadmium, in detectable quantities shows the environmental and human health threats posed by the pollution of textiles companies.

Several acute and chronic toxic effects of heavy metals affect different body organs. Gastrointestinal and kidney dysfunction, nervous system disorders, skin lesions, vascular damage, immune system dysfunction, birth defects, and cancer are examples of the complications of heavy metals’ toxic effects,” the report indicates.

An on spot investigation by this publication indicates that both the water, land and air in Walukuba and Masese were heavily polluted.

Our reporter also witnessed a number of discharge source points along the perimeter wall fence of Sunbelt Textiles Company Limited, located on Plot 64-86 Walukuba Road.

The discharge pipes of waste water effluent from the factory were buried and covered by water and continued discharging their waste straight into the Lake with no retreatment facility on site.

“We have since lost the fish breeding grounds due to the discharge from the factory and have been forced to go deeper into the lake due to the discharge of toxic chemicals into the lake by the Sunbelt textile industry,” Chris Bogere a local leader told this publication.

The community members (fishermen) also observed that in some instances the fish collected near the fence of Sunbelt industries usually smells oil/petroleum when boiled.

The locals also revealed that sometimes Sunbelt discharged some unknown substance in water and that these people would have their feet burnt, and irritated after stepping in such contaminated water.

Jinja City Mayor-elect Alton Kasolo noted that the question of pollution of Lake Victoria was a concern and they would act on it. “I am yet to visit the area but this definitely is a big concern to us and we are going to act, he said.

On Friday National Environment Management Authority Spokesperson Naomi Namara Karekaho noted that they would respond to the queries concerning pollution in a press conference.

“There have been many concerns raised over pollution on Lake Victoria, kindly send in your questions and the Executive will answer them in a press conference,” she said.

An official of the Sunbelt factory Moses Bizitu that this publication spoke to noted he was not the authorized spokesperson of the factory but promised to forward our queries to the company officials. By press time our queries had not been responded to.

However, another worker who spoke to this publication confirmed that Sunbelt did not have measures in place to mitigate the impact of discharge in the water, exposing the community living around the area to the adverse effects of pollution by textile dyes and chemicals.

This publication on a spot visit to Walukuba and Masese found out that the factory structures were also built past the demarcated buffer zone, further into the lake without leaving the buffer zone, contrary to the requirements of the National Environment (Wetlands, River Banks and Lake Shores Management) Regulations, which require any structure along the shore of a lake to leave a buffer zone.

Section 30 of the regulations states that “All shores of lakes specified in the Seventh Schedule to these Regulations shall have a protected zone of two hundred meters measured from the low water mark.” and Lake Victoria is one of them.

In their report, PROBICOU Pro-biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU) noted that textile mills generate one-fifth of the world’s industrial water pollution and use 20,000 chemicals, many of them carcinogenic, to make clothes.

“Textiles use a wide range of chemicals such as Formaldehyde, Azo dyes, heavy metals, Organotin compounds, and Chlorobenzenes. These chemicals have a high potential to contaminate water and other ecological resources if not managed well. Textiles are also associated with air pollutants such as nitrous oxides and Sulphur dioxide produced in the energy production stages and volatile organic components (VOCs) produced in the coating, curing, drying, waste water treatment and chemical storage,” the report indicates.

PROBICOU indicates that they opted to carry out a reconnaissance expedition in December 2021 to assess the extent of environmental pollution.

“This reconnaissance set out to assess the general indicators such as the Biological Oxygen Demand, the Chemical Oxygen Demand, alkalinity and total suspended carbons among other parameters. The results from the water and soil samples were measured against the maximum recommended national standards for discharge of effluent into water. It was found that on all the parameters tested, the samples were way above the maximum recommended standards. The preliminary results indicated high levels of water pollution, which called for further investigation,” the report indicates.

It further indicated that a detailed investigation was commissioned in February and March 2022 in Walukuba and Masese, especially where effluent is discharged from the factories or locations where the effect of pollution was evident.

“A total of three areas were identified, with one located along the lake, the second along the wall fence of Sunbelt Industries Limited, and the third location in the adjacent swamp a spot that exhibited the unnatural appearance of the water. The team collected both water and soil samples from these three locations, which were submitted to the Government Analytical Laboratory for further analysis.”

The report indicates that the soil samples were pooled into one model MSE/LK/SL/18. The air-dried samples were pounded and sieved through 2mm sieve and debris subjected to physical-chemical analysis following standard methods. The heavy Metals were analyzed using the Agilent 280FS Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer. PH and Conductivity were analyzed by using the Seven Excellence Mettler Toledo Multi-parameter meter. Phosphorus and Total Organic Carbon were analyzed using the DR6000 Spectrophotometer.

“Evidence from the lab report indicates that most of the parameters such as PH, colour, Chemical Oxygen Demand, Oil and Grease, Total Suspended Solids, Total Nitrogen, and Total Phosphorus were above the Maximum recommended National Environment (Standards for Discharge of Effluent into water or land) regulations 2020. For example, as evidenced by the findings, the high oil and grease pollution levels impact on the supply of air to the living organisms and aquatic life. This devastating to fish breading and there is a link between this and the community complaints on fish stocks,” the report states.

It also notes that the discharge of high levels of nutrients explains the reason why there is a lot of healthy water hyacinth at the sampling point.

“The high chemical Oxygen Demand is an indicator of certain pollutants that are reducing substances like organic compounds nitriles, sulfides, etc. These all affect aquatic life. The selected parameters for sample one were general quality indicators but more processes specific contaminants were assessed in the selected parameters for samples two and three. The textile dyes, along with a large number of industrial pollutants, are highly toxic and potentially carcinogenic, so that they account for environmental degradation and various diseases in animals and humans”.

The report also indicates that results from the laboratory indicated the presence of heavy metals in the soil in quantities that are above the allowable levels. “Heavy metal contamination in agricultural soils may impart functional disorders of soils, retarded plant growth and even harm the health of humans through contamination of food chain.”

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