Stopping effluents from entering water sources

MORE incidents of illegal disposal of chemical waste in public manholes and toilets are being uncovered.

This follows an increase in enforcement activities by the authorities along water catchments and rivers to nab polluters.

In a bid to stop these illegal acts, Indah Water Konsortium Sdn Bhd (IWK) and National Water Services Commission (SPAN) have mandated that all private tankers involved in transporting sludge and wastewater to have standard body paint and bear an assigned number for easy identification.

This is to mitigate pollution caused by illegal disposal of chemical waste into manholes and eventually, water bodies.

Easily identifiable

IWK chief executive officer Narendran Maniam told StarMetro that all private tankers involved in the disposal of sludge would be expected to display a number on both sides of the vehicle, including the rear, and have blue and green strips painted for easy identification.

“We are working with SPAN as a regulator to ensure all tankers are colour-coded and numbered.

“On top of that, these tankers will be installed with a vehicle monitoring system and IWK will be given access to monitor their whereabouts, ” he added.

Narendran says public manholes can be easily opened and are often located in secluded areas.Narendran says public manholes can be easily opened and are often located in secluded areas.

Since the new guidelines were introduced, about 189 tankers have been painted and assigned special numbers.

Pollution cases last year involving chemicals being dumped into manholes and toilets had increased, forcing the authorities to step up enforcement.

One incident led to the closure of three Sungai Selangor treatment plants and the Rantau Panjang Water Treatment Plant.

With 500,000 public manholes nationwide under its care, Narendran said 33% or 165,000 were located in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Selangor.

“It is challenging and quite impossible to keep an eye on all of them.

“These manholes can easily be opened using a tool bought from any hardware shop.

“Many of our manholes are located in the outskirts of the city in secluded areas.

“We have had reports of tankers dumping waste into manholes at these locations, ” he added.

Narendran recounted a case in 2019 where waste was dumped into a manhole located in a secluded area in Bangi that disrupted the water supply in Sungai Semenyih.

“It was a new township that was not occupied yet.

“While in the Sungai Gong incident in Rawang, the operator had rented a shoplot to store chemicals, and had been pouring them into toilets, ” he said, adding that the red dye disrupted the water supply.

Narendran said with the new identification method, the public could easily spot the number on the tanker and report it to IWK or SPAN.

Instead of sending the waste to IWK for treatment, he said the perpetrators dumped the waste into manholes and drains to improve their profit margins.

“With the vehicle monitoring sytem, we can easily track the movement of these tankers, ” he said.

Narendran added that IWK was also getting help from the Environment and Water Ministry’s environmental crime prevention unit or UCJAS.

“UCJAS gives the government more bite to fight polluters and comprises SPAN, Environment Department, Biosafety Department and police working together to fight pollution.

“Officers will patrol critical areas 24 hours and we hope to see fewer illegal dumping cases, ” added Narendran.

Irresponsible acts

Despite the new ruling, a tanker carrying sewage was caught red-handed dumping sludge into a manhole in Cyberjaya recently.

The driver was brazenly commiting the illegal act a stone’s throw from SPAN headquarters.

“We are still investigating (the case), but the irony is that they just had their vehicle painted and were assigned a number, ” said SPAN enforcement division senior director Kirupakaran Visuvalingam.

He added that owners of vehicles who fail to follow the new ruling risked losing their permit.

SPAN officers checking on a manhole that had hazardous waste dumped into it.SPAN officers checking on a manhole that had hazardous waste dumped into it.

Kirupakaran told StarMetro that March 31 was the last day to comply, and those who do not follow the ruling would receive a show-cause letter from the department.

The department, he said, had issued permits to 88 companies to transport waste.

In the past two years, SPAN reported dozens of cases of dumping into public manholes that polluted nearby water bodies.

“Previously tankers had no identification and it was difficult to catch the perpetrators, but now with the new colour scheme and number, they are more visible, ” he added.

Kirupakaran said there would always be opportunists dumping waste into rivers and manholes.

“These past two years we have been compiling data on dumping hotspots.

“These hotspots are usually riverbanks, water bodies and factories located near rivers and car wash businesses.

“We are keeping tabs on these areas, ” he said.

Kirupakaran was disappointed that environmental issues were not given importance by local authorities when issuing licence to car wash businesses or factories operating near rivers and water bodies.

“We should not give them opportunities to pollute the environment, ” he said.

Surveillance drones

SPAN’s enforcement team also jointly carried out periodic inspections with agencies like Air Selangor to check on water theft and contamination, said Kirupakaran.

“We have people monitoring rivers and sewage treatment plants constantly and now with the data on hotspots, we have been equipped with surveillance drones to tackle illegal dumping, ” he said.

The department was recently given five surveillance drones and officers are currently undergoing training on how to use them.

“We also need to look at preventive measures.

“For instance in the case of manholes, there needs to be a locking mechanism to prevent irresponsible parties from opening them, ” he said.

Kirupakaran says SPAN has five drones to monitor illegal dumping at hotspots.Kirupakaran says SPAN has five drones to monitor illegal dumping at hotspots.

Kirupakaran added that illegal dumping would usually take place in the early morning and the department was not able to be everywhere all the time.

“Our laws are strict, in fact stricter than most countries.

“Unlike countries like the United Kingdom which penalises operators who flout licensing regulations, in Malaysia everyone is subject to the law, not just industry players.

“But no matter how many laws are put in place and funding given for enforcement, the real solution to environmental issues lies in education.

“We have to teach the younger generation about taking care of the environment from a young age, ” he said.

Kirupakaran added that young people needed to understand the implications of pollution and climate change.

“Perhaps one way of getting people to appreciate clean water supply is by attaching a higher value to it.

“I have seen how people are more concerned about their phone bill than their water bill.

“Maybe it is time to change that and hit people where it hurts most, their pocket, so they will truly value water, ” he added.

To report illegal disposal of waste, call SPAN’s Enforcement Department at 03-8317 9333, email aduan@span.gov.my.

IWK can be contacted at 03-2083 2828 or go to iwk.com.my.

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