KARACHI, Dec 2: In view of what it says to be a violation of the country’s environmental laws, the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) has ordered a particle board factory operating in an industrial area of Jamshoro district to immediately shut down.

Sources in the government environment watchdog told Dawn that the authorities in Sepa and its controlling department after receiving complaints from SITE in Kotri and residents of the factory area and conducting follow-ups were now certain that the factory -- Sindh Particle Board -- in the Kotri Industrial area had contravened provisions of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997, and was ‘causing pollution and nuisance’.

However, a representative of the firm with its head office in Karachi held Sepa’s decision a ‘one-sided and contradictory decision made in haste’, and said the party would contest the environmental protection order as the immediate stoppage of operation was not possible.

Section 16 of Pepa, which provided ground for Sepa to issue an environmental protection order (EPO), says: “Where the federal (environment) agency or a provincial agency is satisfied that the discharge or emission of any effluent, waste, air pollutant or noise, or the disposal of waste, or the handling of hazardous substances, or any other act or omission is likely to occur, or is occurring or has occurred in violation of the provisions of this act, rules or regulations or of the conditions of a licence, and is likely to cause, or is causing or has caused an adverse environmental effect, the federal agency or, as the case may be, the provincial agency may, after giving the person responsible for such discharge emission, disposal, handling, act or omission an opportunity of being heard, by order direct such person to take such measures that the federal agency or provincial agency may consider necessary within such period as may be specified in the order.”

The EPO signed by the new Sepa director-general, Naeem Ahmad Mughal, also referred to an EIA report for a new project and a monitoring report of the Sindh Particle Board Mills (SPBM), Site, Kotri, submitted in April, 2008 for grant of approval.

Coming to the ongoing operations of the SPBM, the Sepa DG said the board unit was engaged in dumping of sugarcane bagasse in a huge quantity in the open space of the boundary of the factory, which was causing serious problems to the environment and the health of the people living in the vicinity as the particles of the bagasse were blown by wind and mixed into the air.

The authority also expressed its concern over the air emissions from the factory and said the discharge of particulate, un-burnt carbon and other gasses was not in line with the National Environmental Quality Standard (NEQS). It was further said in the order that the factory was creating significant adverse impacts on the health of the people for which the public of the area protested frequently.The factory was also directed by Sepa in October 2007 to take appropriate measures to resolve the environmental issues created by it, while an opportunity for personal hearing was also given to it through a letter sent in December 2007. This has been mentioned in the order issued on December 1, 2008.

Sepa ordered the SPBM to stop production forthwith and take remedial measures during the shutdown period of 60 days, otherwise prosecution in the environmental protection tribunal would be initiated against it.

The mill is now, as per the order, required to remove or shift all bagasse dumped on the premises of the factory to a safe place without causing its mixing in the air, make arrangement for the construction of covered yards for storage of bagasse in future, install air-pollution control equipment such as dust-catchers (Cyclone) at various raw material handling and workplaces and install equipment for compliance of NEQS, adopt health, safety and environment practices for good in-house keeping of factory workers.

It will also have to submit environmental audit of the production process of the factory prepared by a qualified environmental consulting firm, which should cover proper handling of raw material, effective control measures for air emission control and treatment of wastewater and safe application of chemicals being used in the production process.

In the meantime, Sepa has also rejected an environmental impact assessment report submitted by the party for the establishment of a medium density fiberboard (MDF) unit as it remained deficient in respect of layout plan, baseline of the new factory area, biodiversity and environment condition of the region in question, environmental impacts and social aspects of the proposed unit when it goes operational.

When contacted by Dawn, company secretary of the SPMB, Jahangir Adam, said the order had been received by his office at Karachi on Tuesday and now the management was preparing a reply to it, envisaging that the action decided by Sepa in its case was not justified and needed some reexamination of matters as well.

Like many other particle board manufacturers and industrial units, this had also not acquired approval from Sepa as it was set up some 25 years back when there was no environmental protection regulations in the country, he said, adding that the factory had been seeking guidance from Sepa from time to time for effective mitigation measures to avoid environmental impairment.

Mr Adam claimed that the factory had already spent millions of rupees for placement of environmental protection equipment and measures and said it was unfortunate that Sepa officials did not bother to inspect the factory during the last six months or so and preferred to send notices just basing on hearsay and a couple of stereotype complaints prompted by professional rivals.

“We have adopted measures to reduce the dust emissions in the environment, also hired reputed consultants on the recommendation of Sepa, while on the other hand also reviewing the existing bagasse storage and management style, which was also practised by the other particle board units and sugar manufacturing units in Karachi and other parts of the province.”

Replying to another question, the company secretary said it would not be possible for the management to shut down a factory employing 250 to 300 people abruptly, but a reply to the EPO would surely be sent to Sepa at the earliest. “One of the key environment officials has also visited us in the past and expressed his satisfaction over the operation of the factory,” he added.

The Sepa DG, Mr Mughal, told Dawn that the action of asking the factory to stop production was overdue and had been aimed at improving the working of the factory and health status of the people in its surroundings. “We have already given the party many opportunities to clarify their position and ensure protective measures, which they failed to do,” he added.

He further said that he had already spoken to the police officials concerned and officials of the Kotri SITE and sought their support in the implementation of the EPO, which had been issued after a long time.