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CIVIL SOCIETY ACTIVISTS GANG UP  ON JINJA TEXTILE FIRM AMIDST POLLUTION ALLEGATIONS

By Mulengera Reporters

A Local textile firm Sunbelt Textiles Company Limited in Walukuba Road in Jinja finds itself on the spot over allegations of dumping waste into Lake Victoria exposing the locals in the areas to several chronic diseases. So risky dangerous is the waste being dumped that the lives of thousands of residents in Jinja and possibly those along the River Nile have been put on risk and are in danger of suffering from dangerous diseases such as cancer.

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A report by Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU), entitles ‘The status of Industrial Pollution by Textile Industries in Uganda,’ released in April this year indicates that Sunbelt Industries does not have adequate mitigation measures in place to mitigate the impact of discharge in the water exposing the entire community living around the area to extreme detriment.

“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 textile 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.

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Sunbelt Textiles Company Limited structures have also allegedly been built past the demarcated buffer zone, further into the lake without leaving little or no buffer zone, contrary to the requirements of the National Environment (Wetlands, River Banks and Lake Shores Management) Regulations. These 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.” Lake Victoria is one such Lake.

In their report, PROBICOU Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU) said 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, Organic 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 coating, curing, drying, waste water treatment and chemical storage,” the report indicates.

PROBICOU urged the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to ensure that the textiles industries comply with the standards for discharge effluent with immediate effect as lack of compliance poses a public health threat to the surrounding communities. “NEMA should carry out routine environmental inspection, request for the Environmental impact Assessment (EIA) report, study the conditions of the EIA certificate and study the mitigations measures in the mitigation plan for selected industries such as Sun Belt to ascertain whether they are complying with the conditions.”

It also says NEMA should revisit the conditions for the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment 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 for the closure 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.”

The report authors also called upon the Civil Society, the Media and general public to undertake advocacy to expose the pollution caused by discharge of effluent into Lake Victoria and the danger this poses to the environment and human health. The report also called for the naming and shaming and call for the suspension of licenses and permits the companies involved in such inappropriate acts.

“We call upon the elected leaders to look into this matter and take action against the companies that are implicated, demand for reparations for affected members of the community at the expense of the companies that are found not to have the necessary mitigation measures in place.”

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

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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 explain 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 sample 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.”

Conclusively, the report also indicates that results from the laboratory illustrated 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, lead to retarded plant growth and even harm the health of humans through contamination of food chain,” the report further indicates.(For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994, 0779411734, 0200900416 or email us at mulengeranews@gmail.com).

 

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