The issuance and renewal of the Environment Protection License (EPL) of over 4000 industrial plants bordering the Kelani River will now be scrutinized and restructured by the Central Environment Authority (CEA) as the state agency attempts to clamp down on unauthorized waste disposal.

Speaking to The Nation newspaper, Ajith Weerasundara, Director of Waste Management at the CEA conferred that even though the industries were in possession of the EPL, there was no regular monitoring mechanism to evaluate if the industries were meeting the criteria set by the EPL which is meant to control the pollutant load discharged to the river. He cited that there were some 4000 industries engaged in various sectors situated on the banks of the river.

“We are in the process of reviewing the current criteria to obtain the EPL by companies along the river banks and will also look into the basis on which the license is renewed, to ensure that these factories are in compliance of the standards set by the CEA,” he said. “We are conducting technical and field tests to ascertain the extent of pollution on the part of the industries and will formulate a report which will form the basis on which the EPL scheme will be restructured.”

Weerasundara added that since each factory was different to the other, including their waste management system, it would take the CEA a period of at least two months before the issue the new guidelines.

The Kelani River basin is the second largest watershed and the most polluted river due to rapid growth of industries located in close vicinity of the river.

The main sources of water pollution in Kelani River is the land based sources such as treated and untreated industrial effluents, agricultural runoff, domestic and municipal effluents. Sewage from low-income settlements and industrial effluents (especially from tanning and metal finishing and processing industries) from a large number of industries are discharged conveniently to the Kelani River according to the CEA.

According to a research done by the CEA in 2003, even at the time, the most polluted and very poor ecological condition was reported from the sampling sites at Raggahawatte which flows contaminated industrial waste water from Biyagama Industrial Zone. Most of the parameters exceeded the standard value during the total monitoring period which implies industrial pollution. The pH parameters which exceed are COD (36%), BOD (7%) Dissolved Oxygen (27%) and Heavy metals (7%) other than the turbidity. Water Quality indexes evaluated annually has indicated that the quality of river water deteriorated gradually in all sampling locations

The EPL of the companies in that industrial zone has been in the spotlight after Coca-Cola Beverages reported a leak of fuel from an underground pipe. The leak, which cost the company a Billion rupees in damages, also caused a disruption of water supply to the greater Colombo municipal areas.