Environmental pollution is one of the problems emanating from industrial development.
Toxic substances and emissions in form of smoke, dust, heat,
noise and waste water (effluents) are released from industries during production processes, contaminating water bodies, soil and air.
To control pollution, both the government and the industrial facilities have roles to play.
For the government, it is mainly enforcement of environmental laws, being the core responsibility of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) in Nigeria.
On the part of the industries, operators are required to be environmentally conscious by putting in place environmental management systems and adopting best pollution abatement technology.
These issues were revealed by NESREA Benue State Coordinator, Mr Daniel Iormough during the unsealing of an ethanol producing facility in Makurdi, Benue State.
Prior to the establishment of an ethanol production plant in Benue state, cassava production farmers had suffered post-harvest losses due to the non-availability of markets and means to sell their produce at competitive prices.
The limited access that farmers have not only to efficient large-scale processors, but also to storage facilities and reliable transportation, compounded the problem presented by the crop’s perishability.
As a result, post-harvest losses for cassava are high.
According to estimates by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), these losses amount to more than $600 million in Nigeria alone.
Ethanol is an important industrial chemical used as a solvent, in the synthesis of other organic chemicals, and as an additive to automotive gasoline (forming a mixture known as a gasohol).
It is also the intoxicating ingredient of many alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, and distilled spirits.
According to the state Governor, Samuel Ortom, the biotechnology company would require 2,000 tons of cassava daily to meet this demand.
The Chinese brand, Pure Biotech Company Limited, was founded in 2020, to use cassava as raw material to produce ethanol as main product.
The total production of ethanol is 60,000 metric tons per annum with a purity of 96 per cent, which made Pure Biotech the biggest ethanol plant in Nigeria, with the largest cassava consumption and the highest ethanol output.
In spite of these huge economic benefits attracted by the establishment of the ethanol plant which engaged no less than 30,000 farmers, distributors and youths in the cassava processing value chain, pollution of the immediate environment seemed inevitable.
It would be recalled that residents and environmentalists in Benue State, raised the alarm over alleged pollution of the River Benue by the cassava processing plant located at Kilometer 18, Gboko road.
The Benue Hike Tourism Group also raised an alarm on the matter in mid April 2023, thereby generating speculations from various interest groups including government, market operators, host community and the the public.
According to the reports, the cassava plant had discharged its waste into the river, resulting in a foul and offensive smell that affected water quality and aquatic life in the river.
Some community members said dead fishes floated in the rivers, possibly from pollution from discharge of untreated effluent with sludge into the river in Bezu Village where the factory is located.
A cassava farmer, Mr Terngu Iornum, although expressed joy over sales of his produce to the company, however worried that pollution of water sources and the environment was worrisome.
“We are happy over the presence of the company in the state, it has halted wastes that cassava farmers suffered in the past years, although environmental pollution remained”.
Following the public outcry on the issue, the Benue State Government waded into the matter by setting up an emergency Technical Committee to primarily investigate the matter.
The Committee which was headed by the Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment and others vacated the site and collected samples from untreated sludge prior to the discharge.
The Committee recommended amongst other criteria that the conduit pipe through which effluent is discharged to the river be sealed up permanently and that the company carried out adequate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs for host community.
It may be recalled that NESREA and Officers of the Nigeria Police Force, Benue State Command Headquarters sealed off the facility for discharging untreated effluent into the environment.
According to NESREA, this is necessary following a violation of extant environmental laws and standards, particularly the National Environmental (Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Soap and Detergent Manufacturing Industries) Regulations 2009 S.I No.36.
Mr Daniel lormough, NESREA Benue state coordinator, said the company also violated the National Environmental (Sanitation and Waste Control) Regulations 2009 S.I No.28 and contravenes the EIA Act CAP. E12 of LFN, 2004.
The facility remained sealed for almost two weeks.
To reverse this decision, Pure Biotech Company Limited aggressively moved to strengthen the company’s Environmental Management Systems (EMS).
So far, the company has completed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, awaiting issuance of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by the Federal Ministry of Environment.
While unsealing the plant on April 29, 2023, lormough said the Effluent Treatment Plant, which was one of the conditions for reopening had been installed to treat waste generated from the company.
He said if the company returned to environmental pollution, NESREA would have no option but to seal the plant permanently, urging them to abide by the rules and standards.
Interestingly, the Company has installed a state-of-the-art multi-million dollars Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP), which is not only treating their industrial effluents, but also generates bio-gas powering their generators used in lightning in the facility.
It is also used as an organic fertilizer to be distributed to local farmers as part of the company’s CSR programs.
Without mincing words, the ETP at Pure Bio-Tech is one of the best in the chemical industrial sector in Nigeria. The facility is equipping its laboratory with world class equipment to standard analysis.
On Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) the facility is installing two new boreholes for the host community in addition to the one they have constructed making it three.
Mr Muhammad Abdulkadir, Human Resources manager, Pure Biotech Company, said the company had also acquired land to establish a modern school in the host community.
“Besides, majority (80%) of nearly 200 workforce are Benue indigenes, including youths from the host community (Bezu Village).
“While the company was sealed, it resulted in huge economic loss not only on the part of the company but for local farmers who have found market value for their products through Pure Bio-Tech Company”.
Following the commitment shown by the facility, upon fulfilling the preliminary criteria clearly spelt out under the law including payment of stipulated fines and ensuring functionality of their ETP, the facility was unsealed by NESREA on 29th April, 2023.
However, the facility is required to conduct another effluent and air quality analysis and submit periodic when fully operational to ensure continuous compliance.
Moreso, the facility is to channel all treated effluent into reservoir within the facility. Simply put, there will no longer be any form of effluent discharge into the river or water body anymore!
One big lesson learnt from the Pure Bio-Tech Bezu River experience is that environmental protection is a collective responsibility of all stakeholders: the government, facility operators and the citizenry.
If all facilities make frantic efforts to improve on the environmental management systems, despite initial challenges like Pure Biotech Company Limited, Benue State, our society will be better for it.
NESREA on its part says it would continue routine compliance monitoring to ensure that environmental safety standards are adhered to.
In all, experts are confident that complete Environmental, Social and Health Impact Assessments which constitutes Environmental Management Systems (EMS) for all industries in accordance with Nigerian standards should be conducted and adhered to.
They say this would reduce the environmental and social impacts of such activities as much as possible, look for benefits for affected communities and accelerate industrial growth in Nigeria.
Article by Tosin Kolade, News Agency of Nigeria.