The Environmental Affairs Department has closed Sunseed Oil Company for allegedly failing to comply with environmental standards on disposal of effluent, but the company claims it operates within required standards.
In an interview after the closure on Saturday, the department’s environmental inspector Linda Kalolokesya said the Lilongwe-based oil company discharged effluent into the environment, posing a hazard to the environment and flouting environmental guidelines.
She said: “We followed the flow of the effluent from the outlet to the field. It covers a distance of over one kilometre. We have been engaging the company to improve. So, we have closed for lack of improvement.”
But, in an interview, Sunseed Oil Company managing director Shripad Dabholkar said he is surprised with the department’s decision, claiming the company complied with all requirements, including submitting a performance report and indicating how they were managing their effluent treatment plant.
Submission of the report was one the requirements from the department which, on March 30 2020, lifted an order to close the company after it had noted improvements.
According to a letter signed by the department’s director Tawonga-Mbale Luka, the company had properly functioning waste water ponds, the refinery was operating with a functioning effluent treatment plant and the effluent was not being discharged in the environment.
Reads the order: “In light of the above, we wish to advise that you can resume operations on the following conditions; engage central water lab to conduct regular quality water monitoring and submit a comprehensive report to [the department] on the functioning of the [treatment plant] with first submission to be done by 30th June 2020.”
The company, according to the letter which we have seen, submitted the report by June 30 2020 in which it reported to have worked on all required areas.
Dabholkar said they will continuously engage the department.
He said: “As you have noted, we submitted a report on June 30 as required, so we were surprised to see them closing the company. They needed to engage us on where we need to improve.
“Shutting down our machines takes about 48 hours. We really appreciate the inspections by EAD and we are ready to comply with the law. We must be told what we need to improve on, otherwise, the closure of the company affects us negatively.”
During the tour of the company on Saturday, the department showed us an outlet with effluent from Sunseed Oil premises flowing to nearby crop fields.
Asked on the leakage of some liquids from the factory to the field, Dabholkar said this was not effluent but water coming from a number of activities, including washing of machinery. He said during the rainy reason, due to topography, there is more water flowing through the company to the field that is mistaken for effluent.
However, the department’s deputy director for environmental impact assessment and pollution Shamiso Najira said in a separate interview that they closed the factory because the company did not submit a comprehensive report.
She said: “The company committed a number of offences but the major one is that they are discharging untreated waste water, that also contains oils, direct into the environment, especially people’s farms without any approval from the department which is contrary to Section 60 of the Environmental Management Act (2017), among other sections.”
Najira said not all scenarios require them to give prior warning before closure, adding that this is not the first time Sunseed has been closed for the same offence.
Meanwhile, Movement for Environmental Action interim leader Mathews Malata commended the department for the action, saying more companies are violating environmental guidelines.
He said all wrongdoers should the face the law to send a strong message against environmental degradation.
The department indicated that samples were taken from the closed oil manufacturing company last week and they await results.