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Little action taken on Pailin cassava producers' pollution

Water trickles through an area used to process and dry cassava near a stream in Pailin’s O’Tavao commune in March last year. National Police
Water trickles through an area used to process and dry cassava near a stream in Pailin’s O’Tavao commune in March last year. National Police

Little action taken on Pailin cassava producers' pollution

Almost a year after cassava producers in Pailin were fingered as the source of pollution in a local water source, little has been done to address the problem, commune officials said yesterday, while affected villagers are being forced to buy bottled water to avoid getting ill.

In March last year, local officials in Pailin’s O’Tavao commune said that waste from cassava production, spilling from nine different businesses, had seeped into two nearby creeks that flow through Pailin and Ratanak Mondol district in Battambang.

The waste had killed fish and polluted drinking water, they said, affecting 300 families in Ratanak Mondol district’s Treng commune, many of whom fell ill after eating the fish.

As a remedy, businesses at the time had agreed to build ponds near their production facilities in which to dump the waste and reduce the risk of pollution.

But contacted yesterday, O’Tavao commune chief Sourn Orn said the companies had built only two ponds to collect their waste, while the number of cassava producers in the area had swollen to 14.

“Some ponds are too small to store the waste, so it flows everywhere in the canal during the rainy season,” he added.

According to a report from the World Heath Organization, prior to its preparation for human consumption, cassava can contain dangerous levels of cyanide.

Orn said one of the ponds had overflowed two weeks ago, affecting 30 people living near the river, although it was unclear how many had become ill.

Communities had been forced to buy bottled water, or to build wells in the area, he said, both options were more than locals could afford, with wells typically being shared by up to 25 families.

Kem Sokha, director of Pailin’s Environment Department, said the newly created ponds had been installed too close to the canal.

“Some cassava owners have built their ponds next to the canal, that’s why it is easier for the chemicals to flow into the canal, especially during the rainy season,” adding that they will be asked to move their ponds further away from the canal.

Sokha said a complaint had been filed to the provincial court after one producer, whose pond wall had recently breached, had refused to meet with authorities despite multiple requests.

For those producers who have not built ponds, action will soon be taken, he said, though the form of such action was unspecified.

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