Karnaphuli Paper Mills polluting Ctg lifeline
The water of the Karnaphuli River has turned frothy and black due to thousands of tonnes of untreated toxic effluent being discharged from the country's largest and state-owned paper manufacturer Karnaphuli Paper Mills every day. The photo was taken recently from near the mill. File Photo
The country's largest and state-owned paper manufacturer, Karnaphuli Paper Mills (KPM), is massively polluting the Karnaphuli River, the lifeline of Chittagong, by discharging thousands of tonnes of untreated toxic effluent into it every day.
In a recent visit to Chandraghona where the mill is situated, this correspondent found thick black water with foams floating in the river all around near the mill. The factory, which lies some 60km upstream of the Karnaphuli estuary, releases the waste through two huge pipes. A strong smell of chemicals could be felt even from boats and the river bank.
Locals say the water of more than five kilometres downstream of KPM has lost its properties. “You can even see the blackish, frothing water up to 10km downstream,” said Mohammed Jahangir, a boatman of Chandraghona ferry ghat.
Anowarul Islam Talukder, managing director of the paper mill, said the factory discharged around 300 tonnes of effluent per hour but claimed that all of that was not hazardous.
The pollution is already having its impacts.
“Before the mill was set up, the river water was crystal clear,” said Abdul Monaf, a 70-year-old boatman of the mill area. “Back then, fishes could be found aplenty.”
“Even when we were young, we could get dead fishes and fish fries floating in the river near the mill but now no fish can be found here,” said the fisherman-turned-boatman. Monaf said hundreds of fishermen of the locality had left their inherited job due to scarcity of fish.
However, no government or non-government organisations have tested the level of toxicity of the river water.
Muhammad Edris Ali, vice president of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa), Chittagong, said the untreated waste could alter the water temperature and reduce the oxygen concentration, killing planktons, the food of the fish, and destroying the fish habitats.
KPM MD Anowarul said they had sent a proposal to authorities concerned around two years ago, asking for an effluent treatment plant (ETP). He said he did not know how long it would take to put the ETP in place.
Chittagong Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (CWASA) has set up Karnaphuli Water Supply Project to use the Karnaphuli water to meet one-fourth of the demand of the city by treating around 125 million litres of water per day. The plant may start in a year.
CWASA Managing Director AKM Fazlullah said before they started, the KPM pollution must be stopped. Otherwise, CWASA will have to treat the polluted water itself, which will cost more than Tk 1 crore a month, he added. He said, “Sill the risk is always there, as toxic chemical compounds could not be removed from the water fully.”
Department of Environment (Chittagong) Director Zafar Alam said punishment for pollution by toxic effluent can be both fine and jail sentence. The DoE can even seal the factory, he said.
The DoE fined three private paper mills Tk 14.50 lakh for discharging untreated effluent into the Karnaphuli in March 2012. “The government factory is of no exception. None would get exemption from the law,” Zafar said.
His comments, however, contradict in the case of KPM, as the DoE remains silent though the extent of pollution the mill causes is much higher than that of any other private mill.
Zafar Alam said, “We have sent them notice and warned them many times to no avail. We will soon take enforcement drives against KPM."
Karnaphuli Paper Mills has been releasing hazardous effluent for 60 years since its inception in 1953. But authorities seem to turn a blind eye to it. Experts warn if the toxic pollution by KPM goes unaddressed, the consequences will be very costly.