Cleaning Up Our Rivers

By now, most of us are aware of the tragic pollution incident that took place at Pasir Gudang. Irresponsible parties dumped toxic chemical wastes into the Kim Kim River without any thought on the repercussions that it will bring. Particularly, the myriad chemicals identified were harmful compounds such as acrylonitrile, acrolein, methane, hydrogen cyanide, toluene, xylene and limonene. This hazardous concoction caused many people to suffer horrible symptoms. Moreover, schools had to be shut down indefinitely. People from many fields and backgrounds came together to solve and remediate this crisis in hopes that the matter will not perpetuate.

In the meantime, this would spark a curiosity in some of us: how are other countries faring when it comes to river pollutions?

Department of Environment had licensed a company to carry out cleaning up works at Pasir Gudang  [source]

Myanmar – Textile Haven

The textile town of Wundwin lies in the heart of Myanmar, which is also few miles away from Mandalay.

For nearly 70 years, the area is the primary production hub of the longyi, a traditional Burmese garment that is routinely dyed a variety of colours. There are more than 600 factories that dye fabric in Wundwin. For many decades, the factories discharge industrial wastewater into the nearby rivers. It is depressing to know that people there became accustomed to seeing black, polluted water since they were young.

The textile industry in Myanmar. [source]

Sai Korn Lian is one of the many people noticing that this should end immediately. The young Burmese is a member of the global business promotion team for Horiba. Horiba is a maker of measurement and analysis instruments from Japan. Japan as we know it, is a nation familiar with the environmental repercussions of industrialisation.

Being directly involved in the on-the-ground implementation of the project, he was part of a unique collaboration between Japan’s Ministry of Environment and Myanmar’s Environmental Conservation Department (ECD).  They used the technology provided by Horiba to analyse the scale of the pollution in Wundwin. Besides, the company Hitachi Zosen provided industrial services.

A Collaborative Process Between Industries

To tackle Wundwin’s chronic water pollution problem, they started by assessing the situation. Horiba conducted a survey of dyeing factories to gauge the scale of discharged water. In addition, they also analysed the impact on rivers in the area.

Nevertheless, there were more hindrances than simply assessing the damage and then fixing it. They too realised that awareness is a key issue to tackle this problem. In particular, the importance of environmental pollution is not known to the locals in Wundwin. The dyeing process was so entrenched that workers handling the dye did not even wear gloves. So, Horiba held seminars and workshops in Myanmar. He also ran an internship programme in Japan to teach best practices in the dyeing process.

After the initial assessment work was completed, they tested a new method for cleaning the wastewater. Hitachi’s technology purified approximately 2000 litres of water every day. Initially, the pilot plant is successful, but it was not enough to address the real issue.

A polluted body of water in Wundwin. [Source: Horiba]

Significance of Waste Education

Simply purifying the water was not enough. Local staff needs to know the operation of the technology, within a realistic budget for large-scale implementation. They suggested to refocus the project to realise a more efficient, uncomplicated and affordable technology to see lasting change.

Besides purifying wastewater, the second phase of the project overlooks renewed focus on education. Local workers attended wastewater treatment courses, using compact and affordable technology. Sai reflects that they were successful at the end of the second phase.

In the end, the project lasted almost three years, and its effects were felt not only at the local level in Wundwin, but also nationally.

Sustaining A Clean Legacy

Over the course of the project, Myanmar’s Environmental Conservation Department adopted its first guidelines for noise, air and liquid emissions. And recently, ECD launched an Environmental Management Plan for polluting industries.  It required nine major industries—including the textiles business—to adopt wastewater and solid waste management systems. It was the first such regulation in the country.

Howevr, the work isn’t over yet. Though the project officially concluded, workshops and internship programmes continue to ensure the textiles industry stays on a sustainable track—and Myanmar’s rivers stay clean.

Japan’s Ministry of Environment supported this as part of its “Pilot Projects for Water Environment Improvement in Asia” programme. It has focused on Southeast Asia to share knowledge and learn from the mistakes that industrialising Japan made in the past, and share technology from Japan’s business sector.

On another note, for Horiba, opportunities such as these represent a chance to showcase the effectiveness of its solutions. More importantly, they also want to help to contribute to environmental preservation on a global scale.

At the centre of it all is Sai Korn Lian, who relishes his position as a local who not only works in Japan, but for a company that specialises in measurement analysis. He notes that the first step in any project dealing with the environment is measurement. He often repeats this phrase, and he is already dealing with another project in Myanmar. While constantly communicating with the country, his next project focuses on air pollution in the capital.

Pollution Prevention – An Act that Requires Synergy

This teaches all of us a valuable lesson – preventing pollution necessitates the collaboration of many sectors. Hence, while numerous advanced technologies are in development, we should also be aware of the consequences of environmental pollution. Most importantly, we should never neglect proper education on such matters.

Written by Mitchell Lim

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