They are big, moneyed and mighty. They should know better given the level of investment and what is at stake.
Polluters of Lake Victoria are not just the small light industries. They are also not just residents from low-income settlements like Obunga slums.
Beer maker East African Breweries (EABL) and Equator Bottlers Limited, which manufactures Coca-Cola and other soft drinks for Nyanza region, have now been named among the list of industries that routinely fail to meet standards for treating their waste before dumping it into public sewer lines.
A one-year report that documents compliance levels of various industries using the Kisumu Water and Sewerage Company (Kiwasco) sewer system shows that the two, together with Kibos Sugar, PECHE industries and East African Sea Foods, have a case to answer.
However, they have denied the findings of the Kiwasco tests, which they are, ironically, involved in every two weeks.
The water company accuses EABL of giving it waste that failed on key parameters, at least 10 times in the year to October 10, 2019.
The parameters that the brewer was in the red include total suspended solids (TSS) in its effluent, which were above allowable levels. Others were conductivity of its waste, ammonia levels, and temperature.
Mr Thomas Odongo, the Kiwasco boss, said that when industries fail to meet their effluent discharge parameters, they end up straining their system. Overwhelmed, the firm ends up releasing equally polluted water back to the lake.
Kiwasco said it often brings such concerns to offenders but some do not make necessary amends on time, which overwhelms their system.
But, in its response, Kenya Breweries Limited (KBL), a subsidiary of EABL, denied that it was polluting the lake. The firm maintained that its Kisumu brewery treats all its effluent at its recently installed water treatment plant.
We analyse the effluent four times in a day in our internal laboratory"
KBL said its plant has capacity to treat 1,465 cubic metres of effluent per day and meets 100 per cent statutory requirements to discharge to the sewer line.
“Our current capacity utilisation is about 20 per cent as the effluent generation on site is quite small thus it treats 100 per cent of all waste water generated on site,” KBL said in response to our inquiries following the Toxic Flow series.
The firm confirmed that effluent from its treatment plant is discharged to the Kiwasco sewer line.
“This sewer line is a closed system and leads to the Kiwasco wastewater treatment plant,” the brewer added.
It added that its “state-of-the-art brewery” is highly automated and generates its own performance reports daily.
“We analyse the effluent four times in a day in our internal laboratory and take whatever appropriate action if they are at variance with accepted standards,” KBL added.
The brewery also said it periodically submits its samples to external laboratories, such as Lake Victoria South Water Services Board, for verification.
The board is approved by the National Environment Management Authority (Nema).
“We also proactively engage Abbot, an independent firm, in helping us shape new methods of care and treatment standards for any waste,” KBL added.
Kiwasco, the brewer said, does independent sampling every two weeks. “None of Kiwasco’s analyses has been flagged from 2018 to date.”
But the report from Kiwasco paints a different picture. It has fingered Equator Bottlers Limited (EBL) at least 81 times in the year ending October 10, 2019 for releasing effluent that was not in conformity with the required standards.
In the month we collected samples at the Kiwasco site, the bottler had not met standards on total suspended solids, ammonia, pH, settleable solids and chemical oxygen demand.
All these parameters were in the red, some twice in the same month.
The puzzle is that if the firm cannot meet such basic standards, how much prepared is it to deal with the other toxicants?
In its defence, the bottler said its Kisumu plant runs a well-designed treatment process where effluent is taken through various rigorous stages before discharge.
“Effluent is tested on a regular basis, both internally in the plant lab, and externally in accredited labs to confirm compliance to both local and international standards,” the bottler said.
The firm said it recently engaged Kiwasco in discussions where they agreed on common sampling protocols during the testing of final effluent from the plant with the aim of providing a consistent point of review and reference as well as the necessary remedial actions to be effected if required.
“EBL is committed to ensuring compliance with all regulatory requirements in all its areas of operation and maintains protocols to proactively identify and quickly resolve any concerns that may arise,” the firm said.
These are some of the reasons Kiwasco is pumping at least seven dangerous chemicals into the lake. Our independent tests conducted in partnership with the University of Nairobi’s toxicology lab revealed that the effluent released by Kiwasco into the nearby Kisat River, which flows into the lake, has high levels of cadmium and chromium at concentrations far beyond acceptable standards.
Cadmium is a very dangerous metal. Together with its compounds, cadmium is highly toxic and exposure to the metal is known to cause cancer. It mainly targets the body's cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems.
Even exposure to lower levels of cadmium over a long period can damage kidneys, lungs and bones.
Chromium is as deadly. Exposure to too much of it also causes lung and respiratory tract cancers as well as kidney diseases.
In addition, overexposure to chromium may also cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting, often with blood.
The Kiwasco effluent also tested positive for lead, zinc, iron, manganese and fluoride heavy metals. But these were found in safer levels.
In excess, lead causes decreased mental, nervous system and physical development in children. In adults, it causes high blood pressure, kidney damage and reduced fertility.