TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

South Africa´s automotive sector exports to the US down

Wednesday, 29 September 2004

Source: The Namibian (Windhoek)

New evidence indicating that Windhoek's water sources are being polluted by waste from the Ramatex Textile Factory is putting pressure on the Windhoek City Council to take action to address blatant safety violations by the Malaysian-run concern.

The Namibian has learned that streams stemming from the factory, which run into the Goreangab Dam, are carrying contaminated water - bearing the same characteristics as water tested from storage ponds at the factory last year.

The salt content of monitoring boreholes in the area also shows that the underground water system has been contaminated.

The factory is known to be sprinkling water onto surrounding areas and this further supports findings of groundwater pollution.

From calculations - based on the difference between water consumption and waste storage capacity - hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of water appears to have gone "missing" from the factory system, supporting theories that water is being disposed of illegally.

"From the analysis [of water samples] and reasoning [above mentioned calculations] it should be concluded that pollution is taking place at Ramatex," says an official document seen by The Namibian.

The factory is adjacent to the Gammams Water Treatment Works as well being situated in the vicinity of one of the capital's main aquifers.

Earlier this year, Mayor Matthew Shikongo said an independent investigation would be launched following preliminary testing which indicated contamination of the city's water sources.

At the time of going to press, the city had not yet responded to queries from The Namibian about how far it had progressed with its investigation in light of sources claiming that it had not yet been done.

The city council's management committee discussed the issue last week.

Until August, city officials had been barred from the premises.

Following their August visits, the factory once again stopped the impromptu inspections, ordering city officials to first put their request to visit in writing.

City officials are particularly concerned about the storage of waste in large oxidation ponds.

Last year the factory promised to install technology which would remove the salt from the water.

City sources say as far as can be established this has not happened.

There is no facility available in Windhoek for the disposal of up to 1,9 tonnes of salt the factory produces in waste per day.

For more than a year, the factory has disposed of its waste water on surrounding land.

The factory has claimed that it was sprinkling clean water to suppress dust.

Ramatex's domestic waste water is pumped to the Gammams Water Reclamation Plant, while the liquid waste is stored in dams treated at the factory's own reclamation plant for re-use.

An upgrade of at least N$9 million to the Ujams plant would need to be effected to deal with the factory effluent.

Despite more than a year of meetings and written communication, the factory has still not met a number of prescribed conditions for eliminating the possibility of pollution.

This includes the failure to install impermeable liners for its waste retaining structures, including the sludge drying beds.

The factory's concrete floors which are in contact with waste have also not yet been lined with special synthetic material.

Although the city ordered that no pipelines carrying waste should be installed underground, the factory is known to have an underground network as well as pipework running in open, unlined brickwork trenches.

The factory has also not submitted proof that its pipework is resistant to all the chemicals it uses.

Further, the city has not been able to ascertain whether or not water measuring instrumentation has been installed at the entrance to the dye house and treatment plant to monitor usage.

Ramatex promised to resolve these issues in March last year.

The Namibian is still awaiting a response from Ramatex Executive Director Albert Lim, who is based in Malaysia, on reasons for the non-compliance.

To date, Ramatex has only submitted a draft Environmental Impact Assessment.

It acknowledges that untreated waste water from the factory is hazardous and harmful to all life forms, but a final report has never been submitted to the council.

Textile production is one of the most environmentally threatening processes in the world because of the large amounts of water used and the dyes involved in the manufacturing process.

The dyeing plant is usually the main source of water pollutants because the effluents, which usually contains toxins, are discharged into drains without treatment.



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