In letters to the tanneries, Mugisha noted that there was an offensive odour emanating from the factories which posed a danger to public health and the environment. Mugisha accused Leather Tanning of burying waste containing chemicals (chrome sludge) at the factory site when they did not have a license to operate a waste treatment plant or disposal site. ‘You do not have impervious pits for chrome sludges, resulting in contamination of ground water and the nearby Lake Victoria wetland ecosystem. You discharge your partially treated effluent into the public sewers.’
The letter added: ‘Your workers do not have adequate personal protective wear and this is dangerous to their health.’ Gosh said the factory, which was set up in 1976, had a waste treatment system that relied on burying chromium because their premises were small. However, not only is the act illegal, when it rains the chemicals are washed into the surrounding water.
This is the first time the environmental body has ordered the closure of high profile businesses over pollution. The NEMA inspection is said to have revealed that the two factories were
emitting hydrogen sulfide and ammonia gases.
The factories were also found to be releasing heavy effluent ‘containing heavy metals especially chromium which is known to cause cancer.’ [the old misconception where trivalent chromium is tarred with the same brush as hexavalent chromium].
The factories will resume operations once the environmental body is satisfied that they have constructed efficient wastewater treatment facilities and developed waste management plans for their solid waste. Other conditions include the installation of appropriate technology to ensure that the stench around the town reduces and acquisition of licenses for the operation of wastewater treatment facilities.
News of the closure is certain to be greeted with joy by most of the town’s 65,000 residents who have had to endure the stench from the two tanneries since the middle of last year. However, it is bad news for the two firms’ 150 employees whose jobs are now on the line.