Hot Black Waste in Citarum River

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  • Citarum River in Bandung. TEMPO/Prima Mulia

    Citarum River in Bandung. TEMPO/Prima Mulia

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The pipe lies hidden beneath the water running through a paddy field trench in Jalan Nunisari, West Bandung regency, West Java. Black water courses through the seven-inch diameter pipe. Five minutes after exiting the pipe, the black water turns brown. Tempo's potential of hydrogen (pH) reading of the water three weeks ago showed a 9.3 pH and a temperature of 32.5 degrees Celsius. 

    Read: Jokowi Signals Total Restoration of Citarum River in 2018

    High-alkaline water from the pipe merges with irrigation water before flowing to dozens of paddy fields. According to rice farmers, the pipe comes from a factory owned by Ultrajaya Milk Industry and Trading Company across the street. Ultrajaya Utility Manager Tjatur Nugroho admitted the pipe belongs to the company. "Water processing residue," he said. 

    From the paddy fields, the wastewater will flow to the Babakan Cianjur River before ending up in Citarum. Back in 2013, the New York City-based Blacksmith Institute declared Citarum the world's most toxic river, with trash and wastewater from 1,700 factories. 

    One of these factories belongs to Ultra Milk and Teh Kotak producer Ultra Jaya. Tjatur claims the murky water from the pipe mixes with wastewater from towel manufacturer Sumber Mekar Tekstil Indonesia, located next toUltrajaya's manufacturing facility. "We don't produce liquid waste. We only sew," said Rudi, a human resources employee at Sumber Mekar.

    Read: Citarum Named as World`s Most Polluted River

    In addition to the pipe inside the irrigation trench, Ultrajaya has two more pipes with a 100-meter distance between them. The second pipe, made of concrete, releases milky white liquid. The third pipe, located at the end of the paddy field area, dispenses brown water. 

    Tjatur admitted that all three pipes belong to Ultrajaya. The second pipe is for disposing mixed waste from the factory, while the third pipe, connected to the wastewater treatment plant (IPAL), is for disposing liquid waste. Tjatur showed a letter extending the company's IPAL permit, issued by the West Java Environmental Agency on September 17, 2017. 

    According to the letter, Ultrajaya is allowed to have one waste disposal pipe, which is the third pipe connected to IPAL. Tjatur could not explain the remaining two pipes' statuses. He invited Tempo to observe the IPAL facility at a separate location. Tjatur maintains that Ultrajaya treats its waste in accordance with regulations and disposes of it using the third pipe.

    Read: Walhi: Pollution in Citarum River Reach Alarming State

    Ultrajaya's waste treatment and environment manager, who was present during the test, tried to convince Tempo that his company's wastewater was neutral. He proceeded to rinse his mouth and perform the wudhu (ablution), an Islamic cleansing ritual performed before prayers, using the wastewater. "This is proof that the water is safe," he said with a soaked face.

    According to the West Java Environmental Agency, Ultrajaya is the second largest waste producer in West Bandung. On a daily basis, the dairy company produces 2,000 cubic meters of wastewater that requires treatment before it is disposed of in the river.

    Water from the many tributaries and trenches ends up in Citarum River. Meanwhile, factories in the surrounding areas dump wastewater into these tributaries. Out of the 2,800 factories in the province, 1,700 produce liquid waste and dispose of it in the Citarum River. The Environment Agency found that 90 percent of textile factories do not have an IPAL.


    Read the full article in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine