The oil spill again! :No cause for alarm, says - Chairman, Water Board | Sunday Observer

The oil spill again! :No cause for alarm, says - Chairman, Water Board

Thursday’s incident of a bowser carrying 33,000 litres of diesel toppling over , allegedly spilling part of its contents into the Mahaweli river published in the front page of our sister paper the Daily News, brings up the issue of how safe our water bodies are from such toxic chemicals that somehow seem to find their way into them either accidentally or by negligence. The front paged news report, which showed the picture of the toppled vehicle, stated that people in the neighbourhood had rushed to the scene with tins and cans to collect the diesel gushing from the bowser.

The incident is said to have occurred on the Colombo- Hatton road at Mallappu , when the bowser carrying diesel from Muthurajawela to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation Stores in Kotagala ran off its tracks off the Colombo- Hatton road at Malliappu and toppled over.

Asked for his comments Saturday CPC Storage Distribution Manager W.M.T Bandara told the Sunday Observer, We have not yet got the Police report giving us the reason for the accident and why it had occurred. We need to clarify whether it was due to a poorly maintained track of road or the driver’s fault.” He said the CPC had on hearing about the incident, immediately

dispatched a crew from their stores to visit the site and get what information they could. “ Our people talked to the Depot Superintendent. They also spoke to villagers in the area.” Asked if there had been any complaints regarding the contamination of the Mahaveli river he said, “ No one has complained. It is now three days since this happened, but not even the environmental activists who are quick to protest when such an incident occurs, has made a single complaint.”

Assuring that only a small amount of oil had spilled into the river, he said , “ Only a negligible amount of diesel had spilled onto the road as we immediately sent bowsers to collect the spillage. It happened at noon, due to the roads being slippery. However there was no indication that the oil had spilled into the river.”


Asked if any testing of samples of the river water had been done, he replied, “ That is not our business. It is the duty of the Water authorities”.

Responding to the Sunday Observer’s question as to whether this was the first time such an accident had occurred, he said , “ Our bowsers have met with accidents on the road before as well, but never had any oil spills. They were simply road accidents.”

To get more information on the question on everyone’s lips, we contacted Chairman Water Board, Mr K.A. Ansar. “Had the diesel oil from the bowser which had toppled over on the Colombo- Hatton road spilled into the Mahaveli river or had it not? We asked. Confirming that the accident had occurred in Hatton, he said, “We immediately sent a team to our treatment plant at Peradeniya to test the water of the Mahaweli ganga. for oil.

They informed me that they had no issues with the water intake at Meewatura, and that it was safe.” Could he guarantee this? “ Yes. We have been taking samples of the river and testing it daily several times. It is safe.”

Safe levels

Asked what the ‘safe’ level was, he said, “ Anything more than .1 mg per litre is not safe”.

The Sunday Observer also sought the assistance of the Mahaweli Board Authority. Technical Division head, J.J. Perera told the Sunday Observer he had not received any reports regarding an oil spill at the Mahaweli river. “ It there was a leak our head office at Digana would have immediately taken steps to remove it”, he said, directing us to the head office . Director S.R. K. Aaruppola however said he was unaware of such an incident. “ I only look after the Dams and Reservoirs. You should contact the Water Management Secretariat. Or the AGA. But you need to give him the exact location where the oil is supposed to have leaked”.

Not armed with such information, it bei0ng a Saturday when most state offices are off duty, the whole issue of oil spilling into the Mahweli remains an unresolved mystery.

History of oil spills in S.L

*Flipping the pages of past histories on oil spillages in Sri Lanka, it is clear that this is not the first time such spillages have occurred in the recent past.

*Remember the oil spill in 2015, when 1,900 litres of diesel was leaked into the Kelaniya river by the Coca Cola Beverages resulting in a water cut on August 17, 2015?

*Despite the fact that measures were taken to purify the Kelani River water, people in the area complained that there is still some content of oil left in the water. A considerable number of people who have been using only river water for their domestic usage and for consumption are still affected by the incident. Three years on , many People in the area along the Kelani River bank say that the river water they use for their domestic usage is not as pure as it was earlier., even after the purification.

“There is a little bit of oil in the water hence we use the well water for drinking purposes”, a resident of Hewagama has been quoted as saying. They also recall how they faced many difficulties as a result of the water cut on August 17, which was enforced without a prior notification from the relevant authorities. A resident from Mulleriyawa, one of the areas along the Kelani River bank was also quoted as saying she and her family was badly affected by the contaminated water since they use neither pipe-borne water nor well water. She claimed that river was the only source of water they used. She also said that she could not even bathe in the river due to the oil contamination which could be seen very clearly even with the naked eye.

Another was quoted as saying the family used boiled water for drinking and only used the contaminated water reluctantly for cooking purposes.

River banks

With a considerable number of people using the river water for their domestic usage and consumption , the Sunday Observer learns that residents living nearby are now demanding that that all factories on the banks of the river be removed to prevent a further disasters that could pollute their water.

Unresolved issue

But have they responded? Judging from the number of new and unregistered factories that have mushroomed on river banks it seems clear that the whole issue seems to have been brushed under the carpet. The issue of water pollution per se is yet to be addressed seriously.

This is in spite of the fact that water contamination in Sri Lanka is not a new problem, as incidents in the recent past will tell you- as for example the Rathupaswala incident where toxic chemicals from a rubber factory contaminated the water raising fiery protests from residents. In addition to this, environmentalists have also alerted the authorities of an emerging danger where petrol sheds constructed on land with no outlets for petroleum waste to flow out, are dumping their effluents into the sea, rivers or vacant land owned by absentee land lords.

Who monitors them is a big question that must be answered before these illegal sheds pollute some of the most pristine areas in the country, such as tea estates etc. Given the studies which have proved that both, groundwater and surface water contamination still occurs in several areas of the country, the question is what is being done to halt this runaway menace?

What plans do the authorities have for the immediate future? Or do we have to wait for another decade until these plans are finalized and approved and implemented , to ensure the water we drink is hundred percent safe.”

True the local municipal authorities are doing their best and constant sample is done on water as in the Colombo Municipal Council lab in Colombo whose heads have always insisted that our piped water is hundred percent pure. But what about local authorities in remote areas with no sophisticated labs? How do they guarantee that the water supplied to their residents is safe?*


Water is Nature’s most precious gift to us. Given the limited resources of this natural resource, in an overcrowded, over populated island where the demand for water is growing rapidly , it needs the collective efforts of all of us- from the politicians, decision makers , environmentalists and the public as a whole to make sure that at least our future generations will have safe water, free of chemical toxins, heavy metals and other alien agents that lead to cancer , kidney and liver diseases.

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