Another effluent discharging factory in Kurunegala

In the wake of the Rathupaswala incident, where a factory was alleged to have polluted ground water, another such claim is being raised about a factory in Kobeigane in Kurunegala District. Residents of the area say that a company named Jiffy Products Sri Lanka is using a chemical, calcium nitrate, to treat their coconut fiber products. It is alleged that this chemical is affecting ground water in the area.

Jiffy Products Sri Lanka (JPSL) is a Bord of Investment (BoI) approved subsidy of the Jiffy Products, a multinational company based in Norway. Its products include grow bags, coco blocks and coco dip which are plant propagation substrates used in greenhouses in Western countries. Coconut fiber is the raw material that is being used in this production process.

Kobeigane Pradeshiya Sabha former Chairman Subasingha Jayasundara told ‘The Nation’ that he was alarmed when the water in the Deduru Oya turned black some months ago. Thereafter, some cattle had died under suspicious circumstances which had raised the concerns. He added that the company was dumping the waste water to some pits near the river, which might have contaminated ground water. Furthermore, during the periodic floods, the contaminated water was released to the surface water in the area.

Meanwhile, sources within the Coconut Development Authority (CDA) claimed that the company had been manufacturing finished goods without a manufacture license from CDA. Only an export license had been obtained by the company. Furthermore, these sources also emphasized that JPSL was cutting the coconut husks and washing them with calcium nitrate. The washing process is not done by the local producers which gives the JPSL an advantage over them. Until JPSL started adding calcium nitrate locally, this process had been done abroad and therefore, concerns for health issues had been absent.

Environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardena states that the main issue concerning calcium nitrate is the likelihood of the nitrate anion dissolving in drinking water sources. The nitrate group can transform into nitrites inside the body. This reaction is more likely to occur in small children. Nitrites can bind to hemoglobin in blood and thereby hinder the transport of oxygen in the body. It can lead to the condition called the blue baby syndrome. Sri Lanka Standards Institute (SLSI) has recommended a maximum permissible limit of 10 parts per million (10 mg per liter) of nitrates as nitrogen in potable water.

Nitrates are extremely soluble in water and cannot be removed by simple methods like boiling. Special filters have to be used to remove it from water. Scientists are still researching for more efficient and economical way to reduce nitrates from water.
However, JPSL Managing Director Sandeep Gamlath says that the nitrates are released in a controlled manner and there is no reason to worry. He dismisses all the allegations, claiming it to be a ‘fabricated story.’ He states that calcium nitrate is used to remove sodium and potassium ions from the coconut fiber, replacing them with calcium ions. The effluent thus released contains high amounts of sodium, potassium and nitrates. Since this contains two essential elements to plants, this could be used as a fertilizer. Gamlath added that JPSL owns 73 acre land at Kobeigane out of which 30 acres are used for a banana plantation. Another 12 acres are being used to research coconut hybrids in partnership with Coconut Research Institute. He added that the effluent added to the agricultural lands has safe amounts of nitrates.

Gamlath added that they have been unaware of the need for a manufacture license until the recent controversy. The CDA had never insisted on it and the company had assumed that the BOI approval supersedes the manufacture license. However, sources within the CDA said that the CDA had prescribed some of the activities of the company about a year ago.
Furthermore, Gamlath also mentioned that the Jiffy Products has obtained ISO 14000 and ISO 9001 standards and the international RHP standards. Calcium nitrate has to be added to obtain the RHP certification for the coconut fiber products. He also mentioned that the provincial environmental authorities have carried out periodical tests.
Sources inside the Central Environmental Authority indicated that tests of water and soil samples will be carried out following the recent allegations. The BOI media director was unable to provide any significant detail on the issue.
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