By NIRVASHA KUMAR
Over a decade ago, Laucala Beach Estate resident Manshika Lal could not stand the stench emanating from nearby waterways. The sight of industrial waste and rubbish strewn across the beachfront was an unbearable sight.
At the time, she said food processing plants and factories would dump their rubbish and waste carelessly in the area, sometimes on land where crops would grow in abundance. Back then, it was risky to plant close to areas where industrial effluents were illegally dumped. No one wanted to consume food that could possibly have been infected by dangerous chemicals and bacteria from industrial waste.
She recalled the foul smell from nearby creeks, drains and shorewaters, caused by litter and industrial effluents discharged into those waterways.
“There was a factory that exported root crops in this area some time ago. They would dump waste such as damaged crops and dirty water in the nearby waterways,” she said.
“We raised this with the Nasinu Town Council and the Environment Ministry because it was not a responsible thing to do, especially the impact pollution and waste would have on the environment and the livelihood of those who use the shore waters and creeks for their sustenance.
“The authorities took action and enforced stringent legislations and notices. We’re glad they did because if it had gone on longer, it would have been disastrous.”
In the early 1990s, Laucala Beach Estate was part of Suva’s growing industrial area alongside Vatuwaqa, Kalabo, Wailada and Walu Bay. It was and still is a popular industrial area for manufacturing and processing activities.
But when a 1992 report on Fiji’s national state of the environment by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) highlighted the dangers of industries discharge of trade waste into the sewerage system, creeks and coastal areas, stakeholders banded together find a solution to the growing environmental breach that greatly reduced water quality in the nearshore waters around Suva.
At the time, these industrial areas were dubbed the most polluted in the country.
Laucala Beach Estate is situated east of Nabua. Today, the area consists of over 10 industries with new developments emerging such as the proposed Asphalt Plant project by Higgins Fiji Limited, which is in close proximity to the Bulei Road residential area.
Early this year, a petition signed by 565 people in the area opposed the proposed Asphalt Plant project. The petitioners, including businesses and residents, were concerned about the environmental impact of the project. According to media reports, majority of businesses in the area are food processing companies, who raised concerns that the project could endanger their health certification and accreditation if pollution levels increased as a result of the asphalt plant.
It is understood an environment impact assessment on the proposed project would be undertaken to establish the dangers.
Interestingly, a 2021 conference paper on the environmental impact of asphalt mixtures production for road infrastructure delivered at the Electrochemical Society digital conference meeting noted that asphalt mixture is most commonly used in pavement constructions. The article highlighted noise, odour, waste and sewerage water pollutants among other elements as possible environmental pollutants by asphalt mixing plants.
“Dust emissions are related mainly to the first phases of the asphalt production. The amount of dust depends on operating conditions. Possible sources of groundwater pollution are storage piles of artificial aggregate, leakage or mixing with natural soil, fuel tanks, hot oil for the heating system, pipelines and pumping stations and solvents (laboratory chemicals),” the report read.
“In order to prevent groundwater contamination, preventive inspections (especially leakage inspections) should be carried out during operation of the plant.”
The report noted that knowledge about emissions and their concentration in the plant was vital for preventive measures, adding measurements of emissions concentration and the pollution risk monitoring should be practiced regularly.
In response to the asphalt issue, Ministry of Waterways and Environment permanent secretary Joshua Wycliffe said they would assess the environmental impact assessment report before any approval is made.
In 2007, cannery business Viti Foods (formerly Voko Industries) in the area had also been taken to task for allegedly discharging effluent with fish wastes that was high in biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) into the sewerage system.
A report by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) titled ‘International Waters Project’ highlighted that this discharge caused large areas of turbidity, a measure of the degree to which the water loses its transparency due to the presence of suspended particulates, and increased BOD, which caused an overall reduction in water quality.
Speaking to Wansolwara, Viti Foods senior quality assurance officer Avishek Lal said the company now had a proper waste management system with a functional treatment plant in the factory.
He said they were working with authorities to ensure compliance at all levels of production.