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Sound pollution, a main environment issue:

Days are numbered for noise polluters - CEA Chairman



Charitha Herath

Motor vehicles are the dominant source of noise pollution in any country. In Sri Lanka the public transport sector is the worst sound pollutant. With the news of new laws in the pipeline, bus drivers have already imposed self restraint. We don’t hear blaring horns of private buses too often now. This is a positive development. With the rapid development taking place in towns and villages, major roads have been built right across residential areas. Therefore noise pollution due to vehicles has become a major issue. The other category, public noise pollution, under which the musical shows, festivals and ceremonies at religious places cannot be addressed due to a court case that overruled the CEA regulations. We prohibited the use of loudspeakers and other devices that create public disturbance after 10pm, but following the court ruling we are compelled to find alternative means to address this issue.

Central Environment Authority (CEA) Chairman Charitha Herath says the police will be provided with hand held sound meters shortly to nab vehicle drivers violating sound pollution laws. Adding that the Motor Traffic Act will be amended to accommodate the new legal provisions of noise pollution, he says the public transport sector is the main noise polluter in the country.

Following is the text of the interview the Sunday Observer had with CEA Chairman Charitha Herath.

Q: The Central Environment Authority last December gazetted new laws to prevent vehicle noise pollution. Does that mean the police can take action against the violators in the future?

A: Sound pollution is one of the main issues that we need to address when Sri Lanks’s environment issues are concerned. As far as noise pollution is concerned we are in a better place compared to other countries in the region.

There was absolutely no legal provision to prevent noise pollution until these new laws were enacted and gazetted in December 2011 by the CEA. Earlier, the sound restrictions were imposed near selected places like hospitals, schools, religious places and Courts, etc.

We identify three categories of sound pollution; industrial, vehicle and public noise pollution. The industrial noise pollution factor was addressed by a regulation enforced by the CEA earlier.

Now it is functioning. We have begun issuing licenses to industries and the sound pollution factor is covered in this licensing process. Vehicle noise pollution is the second area that we are currently in the process of regulating. We gazetted the criteria that concerns vehicle horns. The CEA has begun training traffic police personnel and motor traffic department officers on how to enforce the law.

The discussions are on as to how the Motor Traffic Act should be amended to accommodate the new regualtions.

Then the police department will be in a position to take action. We have already announced the legal parameters and the sound limits a vehicle horn is allowed to make. The fines and other related issues will be handled by the above two departments.

Police and Motor traffic officials will enforce the law thereafter. The CEA is hoping to bring down and distribute special hand held units - ‘a sound level meter’, to measure the noise. In the near future traffic cops will be seen carrying these units on the road to test the sounds of vehicle horns and may be the burglar alarms.

Q: How do you test if the vehicle is emenating a sound that infringes the law?

A: The vehcile’s horn will be tested at 7 metre and 2m distance using this device to check if the vehcile is emanating more noise than the CEA permissible limit. According to the gazette, the noise of a vehicle horn should not exceed 105 decibels at a distance of 2m and 93 decibles at a distance of 7m. Most of the vehicles, especially lorries and buses may have to replace their blaring horns when the law is put in place.

Q: Has there been any discussion on the environment impact to Sri Lanka by the Nuclear plant that is being built in Tamil Nadu, apart from the nuclear threat itself?

A: The Atomic Energy Authority should take the leading role in this.

I have already raised it with them. I had a meeting with Minister of Power and Energy Patali Champika. He said that they are working on the matter and a report will be available to us.

We will decide on our actions based on that report. We cannot condemn if a country wants to develop their nuclear capacity for civilian purposes like power generation. India has a right to do so.

But we have to look into certain aspects that concern the safety of the country and its people.

If there is an accident at the nuclear plant, we need to measure the impact to Sri Lanka as a whole. As you know, this Kundankulam plant constructed in Tamil Nadu is much closer to the shores of Sri Lanka than to India’s capital New Delhi.

Q: Any plans to permit nuclear power generation in Sri Lanka in the near future?

A: There was a newspaper report this week quoting the Power and Energy Minister. But there has been no requests to this effect so far, as far as I am concerned.

Although the CEA is responsible for the protection of environment, this is largely a matter for the Atomic Energy Authority.

The CEA agrees as a principle, the idea of using nuclear energy for civilised purposes.

However, as a small and strategically important state, we need to evaluate a lot of areas before going for nuclear energy. We must not create avenues for the international community to interfere in internal affairs of our country and this issue I believe, if not handled cautiously, will given them that impetus... the best example is Iran.

Q: When will the solid waste power plant in Meethotamulla, which was proposed as a solution to the waste disposal crisis in Colombo be commissioned?

A: It is a plant run by private parties to generate energy using solid waste. They have submitted an EIA report and at the moment, we are evaluating this report. The first meeting of the technical committee was held recently and almost all the government agencies concerned attended the meeting. Under the project, the company is to receive 700 Mt of solid waste per day to generate power. Colombo Municipal Council agreed if CEA permits the project; they will supply solid waste for the plant.

The Supreme Court also gave a ruling for the Colombo Municipal Council to work out a plan to get a proper disposal facility. This plant is one of their suggestions.

The project is between the CMC and the private company. The land will be provided by the Urban Development Authority. We are currently evaluating the environmental impact. If the impact is minimal, the project could go ahead.

Q: Are you satisfied with the Colombo Municipal Council’s current waste management policy?

A: The CMC should take effective measures to manage their waste. What they have done is completely unacceptable. First, they started open dumping in Bloemendhal.

Then, they moved elsewhere leaving a stinking mountain of garbage.

This Meethotamulla land was allocated as a short term solution, until the CMC worked out a permanent solution. But they continued dumping at this site.

Then a land in Karadiyana, an environmentally sensitive place close to Bolgoda Lake was chosen. That was acquired not by CMC but private waste disposal contractors working for them. Karadiyana has also become a great big dump yard now.

It is high time that CMC set up a research and development fund to hire scientific expertise in waste management.

This should be one of their top priorities.

The Colombo metropolitan area generates nearly 1,200 tons of waste per day. It is not a simple task.

The CMC charges property tax from residents in Colombo.

hese funds should be utilised to find professional means to the problem. We cannot allow the CMC to continue this open dumping in other people’s territory, they must find alternative ways.

Meethotamulla is in Konlonnawa Pradeshiya Sabha and Karadiyana belongs to the Boralesgamuwa PS.

Q: With the Rio Earth summit coming up, what are the plans to reduce our carbon footprint and prevent climate change?

A: The topic of the theme of World Environmental Day this year is Green Economy, We are also making plans to motivate and encourage green businesses, environmentally friendly industries and green accounting facilities.

Under the program it is targeted to minimise the exploitation of natural resources and enhance recycling facilities for used items. Plastic and polythene are alternatives for environmentally related products, but their excessive production can harm the environment, so recycled use of these products will be promoted.

We will be creating awareness among people to get the used products back to the recycling process. Already recycling plastic products and glass are fairly popular in Sri Lanka.

However, the industry of recycling has yet to be a popular business in Sri Lanka.

We hardly see any new initiatives by investors. We want the business community to develop an interest in this area. A private sector company commissioned a bulk recycling plant last year. This is a very good initiative. We are looking forward to promote such investments within the year of ‘Green Economy’.

Q: But the electronic waste disposal mechanism set up recently seem to have gained recognition among the masses?

A: The CEA along with private sector stake holders launched this program last year. Electronic devises have replaced many industrial items and household items.

It is a hazardous waste. We cannot send them to open dumping yards. The recyclers of electronic waste are sending them out of the country. In a short span it has become a highly lucrative business.

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