Island News

Illegal dumpers on watch list

Written By : ALUMECI NAKEKE. The illegal dumping of waste by industrial companies becomes a recurring problem when it goes undetected. Companies are often ignorant of the law because no
13 Sep 2008 12:00

image Written By : ALUMECI NAKEKE. The illegal dumping of waste by industrial companies becomes a recurring problem when it goes undetected. Companies are often ignorant of the law because no one questions them on their actions.
But this will soon be a thing of the past, with the authorities to clamp down on companies who discharge their waste illegally.
According to the Ministry of Environment, companies caught will have to pay up to $25,000 to more than $.5million dollars if found guilty or up to 10 years imprisonment.
Industries have also been warned to improve their operations and clean up their act as from now until the end of December.
Director Environment Epeli Nasome said that by January 1, 2009 they will start prosecuting industries that are non-compliant with the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) standards.
An EIA is an assessment of the possible impact-positive or negative-that a proposed project may have on the natural environment.
The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that decision makers consider environmental impacts used to decide whether to proceed with the project.
In the island of Levuka, villagers are concern of the waste they believe is coming from the Pacific Fishing Company (PAFCO) factory. The villagers say EIA should be done to assess the amount of waste discharged.
Fiji Locally Marine Managed Area (FLMMA) Kubuna representative Mesake Draniatu said five villages near the town had raised their concerns on the health of their reefs.
He said the villagers are blaming PAFCO for the waste being dumped into their passage which is killing marine life and corals.
Draniatu said they had been complaining about the issue for so many years but nothing has been done about it.
“The issue I want to raise here is about PAFCO’s dumping of waste. Although there is s sewage pipe that goes out into the passage it has done more damages to surrounding areas,” he said.
“I do not understand what kind of assessment was done by PAFCO and the Environment Department at that time. The assessment done did not cover the whole area be cause they assessed on a small scale. The waste dumped by the factory is killing corals on the south eastern side of the island.”
He said the villages of Draiba, Naikorokoro, Nasinu, Tokou and Natokalau have complained of dead corals on their reefs and also of diminishing fish stocks.
“I have been told by representatives from those villages that one can hardly see corals on the reef and that is a bad sign because they will have no fish and other seafood. Although PAFCO has put in a sewage pipe to dump their waste in the passage the current takes it to the surrounding reefs,” he said.
“We are really trying hard to tell PAFCO to do something about it or they can be part of our conservation efforts which they are not,” he said.
The last time he approached them was three years ago when he asked management to do something about it but nothing was done.
“With the dead corals we have less and less and fish because their feeding ground is dying and the Environment Department can just bark but has no teeth. Before everyone came here the ocean was our livelihood.”
However, the allegation was denied by PAFCO human resource manager Etueni Caucau who said Draniatu was making serious allegations.
“The company wishes to assure all major stakeholders that it is not dumping any form of toxic waste into the sea that would endanger marine life. The effluent, though turbid is high in organic matter (Watling and Chape 1992),” he quoted.
“A report made in 2001 (Tamata and Thaman 2001) revealed inter alia that the outfall constructed in the early 90s is effective in maintaining satisfactory water quality within the port. Recent checks have also confirmed new coral growth along the outfall pipeline which extends 200 meters beyond the reefs and also about the same distance below sea-level.”
Caucau added that the company treated the allegation very seriously and wished to invite Draniatu, to present any evidence that would assist the Company in investigating the above allegation.
“The Company provides employment to more than 800 men and women of Ovalau and will do its utmost to maintain the livelihood of the future generations of the island,” he said.
But Nasome said if the corals died because of waste from PAFCO it meant that the level of pollutants in the discharge from the factory exceeded the required level for that particular pollutant.
He said that under the regulations there was a certain level of pollutant that should be discharged from the factory such that it would not cause degradation to corals and other marine life.
“If it is within that standard limit then the environment will continue to function in a healthy manner but when a chemical exceeds the level within a discharge then it would cause an imbalance and degrade the environment,” he said.
“We need to analyse the problem and if it is really coming from PAFCO then we can say that it has exceeded the standards required under the Act. So therefore they are not compliant under the Act and liable to be prosecuted.
“Prosecution will start in January 1, 2009 and that’s when our Act and regulations will come into force.”
He said although the EIA Act was approved in 2005 they had to prepare the regulations in 2007 because the Act alone was not enough to enforce its requirements.
“The regulation was prepared in 2006 and 2007 and then gazetted in December, 2007.
But as part of the legislation process there need to be a grace period or an awareness period to the public about the requirements of the Act and the regulations,” said Nasome.
“The grace period started in January this year until December and we are conducting trainings and awareness programmes on the requirements of the Act and the importance of compliance,” said Nasome
“And also we take note of the industries in Fiji and we still are taking stock of it and that information has been provided to us by the town councils and rural local authorities.”
And in Levuka’s case he said they would be monitoring their activities (PAFCO) from January. He said they would also rely on reports from those affected by such pollution because the ministry did not have offices around Fiji.
“We want to advice the offenders to be compliant with the Act and to start cleaning up their act and start relooking at their waste management system now. We also want to let them know that from now until December they should improve their operations,” he warned.
“And that whatever waste they produce is taken care of appropriately because come January 1, 2009 all non compliant industries will be taken to task.
“There are penalties for the first offence they can be fined up to ¼ million dollars which is 250,000 and if they continue to offend they can be fined up to $750,000 or even imprisonment for whoever is boss of the day for 3 to 10 years and it depends on the seriousness of the offence and depend on the charge.”
However, they would not be able to compensate those who had suffered for the last years but only those who will suffer now onwards after the EIA is done.
He also confirmed that by next year they will not be branded a “toothless dog” because they will be able to enforce the Act.”But under the Act we cannot compensate for any former work done. We only stop waste now and onwards but not on former issues and that could be under the Fisheries Act and they will do survey of all the
damaged areas and all the dead corals, how much it will cost and through the Tribunal they will have to pay whoever is to be compensated,” he said.
The proper procedure for any industry to get a permit for EIA is to go through the town council or rural authorities and then they will forward it Town Planning department and then forwarded to the Ministry of Environment.
“We have consultants who will carry out the assessment because we want to be independent. They will do the work to see if it is satisfactory or not. We have a list of consultants and if industries or whoever needs an assessment have proposals and need EIA to be done they can come to us and we will give it to them,” said Nasome.
As for being a “toothless dog”, he said that was true before the Act and legislation but now with the penalty – it will be a deterrent for industries from polluting the environment.
“And we will be looking for them everywhere. So now if they cannot pay the penalty they have to comply,” Nasome concluded.

Note: Ms Nakeke is a Ocean Science Reporter with SeaWeb. SeaWeb is a nonprofit organization that works to amplify and clarify the messages of local scientists and ocean experts, and to connect journalists and decision-makers to ocean issues and specialists.

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