Funded by Innovation Lab (iLab) of the Access to Information (a2i) program, under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), three pilot projects of the initiative have already kicked off
The Department of Environment (DoE) is ready to launch an online monitoring system for effluent treatment plants (ETPs), to stop industrial units from evading the authorities concerned by shutting down the ETPs when there is no inspection.
Funded by Innovation Lab (iLab) of the Access to Information (a2i) program, under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), three pilot projects of the initiative have already kicked off.
Although it is mandatory to install and use an ETP at factories discharging liquid waste, most industrial units do not comply with the rule.
During drives conducted by the DoE, the authorities at such factories defended their action of not operating ETPs, citing “additional” electricity bills and other costs.
According to the DoE, keeping ETPs out of operation, factories release untreated, hazardous, and contaminated liquid waste into water bodies. The toxic waste ends up in rivers, gravely threatening the ecosystem.
Apart from this, gases emitted from the untreated liquid items also take a heavy toll on the atmosphere.
Considering the rampant pollution of water, the DoE has gone forward with pilot projects. The projects are expected to provide real time data on various parameters set by the law, and will also confirm whether factories are using their ETPs.
Several DoE officials said it is not possible to inspect every industrial unit to help stop environmental degradation, owing to a shortage of manpower.
Regular and round-the-clock monitoring is not possible either, they said, which prompted the DoE to approach the a2i’s iLab to find a solution with an online monitoring system.
Duly, the a2i and the DoE accepted proposals from firms and people interested in the matter, with plans from 102 responders, mostly from universities and private companies.
After thorough scrutiny, they chose three proposals, with the iLab granting funds to the firms.
What authorities, innovators say
iLab Head of Technology, Faruq Ahmed Jewel, said: “The funds were granted, taking the environmental issue seriously.”
Saying it is not a piece of cake to tackle the issue, he continued: “We have already handed over the first installment to the three firms.”
Each of the firms will install an online monitoring system apiece, in compliance with the project proposals, he suggested.
Syed Nazmul Ahsan, director (environment clearance) of the DoE, said: “Most factories build ETPs, but they either do not run the ETPs properly or completely keep them out of operation.”
“This is why untreated industrial liquid waste adds to rampant water pollution,” he added.
Seconding Faruq’s sentiment, he furthered: “It’s a challenge to keep all the ETPs under surveillance all the time. If we can set up an effective online monitoring system, it will help reduce pollution on a major scale.
“These three are pilot projects. After successfully installing the system, we will go to all the industrial units across the country” he said.
Mushfiqur Rahman, managing director of one of the three firms, Envirotics Engineering, said: “The hardware of a project for a single factory would cost between Tk17 to Tk70 lakh, depending on the country from where the devices are imported.”
Also, in the case of imports, the server would be controlled by the exporter, which is a major issue. So, we are trying to develop a system of our own to curtail import costs and avoid the issue of server control from the outside, he said.
A home-grown online monitoring system will cost approximately Tk6 lakh per factory, he concluded.
ETP scenario across the country
Currently, at least each of 1,782 industrial units across the country, have an ETP. Of them, 1,273 are in Dhaka division, including 97 in the metropolitan area. In Chittagong, there are 337 industrial units with ETPs, 258 of which are in the metropolitan area.
Despite the DoE requiring ETPs for 431 more industrial units countrywide, including 333 in Dhaka and 65 in Chittagong, factory authorities are not paying heed to their obligation in the matter.
How the projects work
Two of the projects are directly related to ETP. Under the two projects, some electronic and sensing devices will be set up on ETP outlets, for real time data on various parameters: biological oxygen demand (BOD), chemical oxygen demand (COD), pH correction, dissolved oxygen (DO), and temperature, etc. The devices will also confirm if any ETP is turned off, revealing the duration of the suspension of operation.
Interestingly, if removed, displaced, or changed, the devices will relay a message to the central server from where the entire system will be monitored.
The third project will focus on river water quality. In this project, a buoy will be set up near an industrial waste water discharge point on a river. All the sensors and devices run by solar power will be installed inside the buoy, to send data to a central server.