News Desk: The central effluent treatment plant at Savar Tannery Industrial Estate is not fully functional yet, which is why, tanners are still discharging harmful chemicals into the Dhaleshwari river.
Bangladesh keeps losing out on tapping its vastly unutilised cattle rawhides as the central effluent treatment plant (CETP) at the Savar Tannery Industrial Estate is not fully ready yet.
This means the estate, set up at a cost of Tk 1,015 crore over a period of 18 years, will not be able to treat all of the rawhides to be generated during Eid-ul-Azha next week.
This is because the estate has not made significant progress in putting in place a fully functional liquid and solid waste management, a salt purification system and the common chromium recovery unit (CCRU).
As a result, the estate will keep discharging harmful chemicals into the Dhaleshwari river, polluting its water and causing severe environmental pollution.
The CETP, which cost Tk 521 crore, has a capacity to treat 25,000 cubic metres of waste per day. The demand rises to 42,000-45,000 cubic metres during Eid-ul-Azha.
This prompted the estate authorities to start rationing to cope with the additional pressure during Eid so that effluents from 134 tanneries up and running are not released at the same time.
"We have initiated a rationing system so that the capacity of CETP can be used," said Mustak Ahmed, managing director of the estate and a deputy secretary of the industries ministry.
He said a letter has been issued to the tanners informing them about the rationing system.
The capacity of the CCRU is 1,050 cubic metres a day, way lower than 5,000 cubic metres it receives. The chromium recovery is not possible owing to the untreated chromium, according to a document of Dhaka Tannery Industrial Estate Waste Treatment Plant Company (DTIEWTPC), set up to run the CETP.
A tanner is supposed to send chromium effluents to the CETP through the chromium drainage system and other effluents via the general drainage system.
But some tanneries transfer chromium effluents through the general drainage system, thereby obstructing the internal biological system of the CETP.
Besides, the CCRU also can't maintain the retention time because of the presence of excess effluents, prompting some chromium effluent to enter into the CETP, according to the DTIEWTPCL paper.
Satyendra Nath Paul, chief engineer of the plant management company, said large tanneries have been asked to set up their own CCRU so that the pressure on the CETP's chromium recovery system lessens. But they are yet to establish the system.
Small tanneries have been asked to discharge effluents properly.
A partial laboratory has been set up to monitor the function of the CETP and the CCRU and the lab is supposed to carry out at least 14 chemical tests. But it can perform five tests now.
Work orders to put in place the facilities to conduct the rest were placed three months ago. The supplier will deliver the machinery by August, said Paul.
In a letter to the DoE in June, the DTIEWTPCL detailed its plan to reduce the use of restricted chemicals and build a chemical warehouse, but the plans are yet to see the light of the day.
At present, there is no provision for the salt treatment unit since the CETP has no reverse osmosis. It will take Tk 300-400 crore to set up the unit.
The company does not have the money to set up the unit, Paul says.
A dumping yard for the solid waste will be constructed next to the CETP. Since there will be a huge rush of solid waste during Eid, a pond has been dug next to the proposed yard so that the extra waste can be thrown there, Ahmed said.
Some local and foreign companies have shown interest in solid waste management, but the estate authorities were not satisfied with their plans.
There are nine de-watering units to separate water from waste. Of them, six are functional. An official of the estate says work is on to make the rest ready before Eid.
CONTAMINATED CHEMICALS STILL POLLUTING DHALESHWARI
In the first week of June, the Department of Environment (DoE) sent a letter to the DTIEWTPC, saying the CETP is not fully effective.
It came to the conclusion following an analysis of the liquid waste released between January 2021 and May 2022.
The discharge of the untreated effluents into the Dhaleshwari is causing damage to the river's aquatic biodiversity as well as its habitat, it said.
This followed a similar concern raised by the parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Environment in November last year.
According to the committee, the tannery estate has been running without any environmental clearance for 10 years and it recommended shutting it down.
The estate authorities are currently overhauling the CETP to bring efficiency. The work will be completed by July 5, said Ahmed.
MAKING MOST OF RAWHIDES STILL A FAR CRY
In Bangladesh, Eid-ul-Azha accounts for half of the leather that tanners collect throughout the year.
A lack of compliance is preventing the leather sector from tapping its potential and expanding its footprint in the international market despite the availability of raw materials locally.
As a result, exporters are getting 30 per cent to 40 per cent lower prices for their products in the global market compared to competitors. The fair price can't be ensured in the local markets as well, since Bangladesh has not gained certification from the Leather Working Group (LWG), the global body for compliance and environmental certification in the leather and leather goods sector.
The number of sacrificial cattle in the country is 1.21 crore this year, 2 lakhs more than the preceding year, according to the fisheries and livestock ministry.
RECENT SPOT VISIT
During a visit to Kalu Leather Corporation, located on the estate, on Thursday, it was found that it had stored 30 tonnes of salt to preserve the hides. Nine drums are being prepared to remove leather fur.
The company has set a target of procuring 1 lakh rawhides this season, said Abu Sayed, supervisor of the company.
Some other tanneries are also taking preparations to collect and process rawhides.
Some fishermen in Hemayetpur of Savar alleged that due to the pollution caused by the estate, they don't get enough catch in the Dhaleshwari compared to the past.
The Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation under the industries ministry began implementing the estate in 2003 and completed it in June 2021.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, said that the authorities took no effective initiative in the last five years to run the CETP efficiently.
"As many parties are involved, they only blame each other. So, the problem is not solved," she said, urging the authorities to sort out the problems quickly to stop environmental pollution.