A cassava-processing factory in northwestern Cambodia’s Battambang province has been accused of dumping foul-smelling wastewater into streams linked to the province’s main river, making villagers sick from consuming fish from the contaminated waterways.
Authorities have begun investigating pollution from the Hunan Er-Kang factory in Rattanak Mondul district, according to villagers and officials.
They charged that the factory had been channeling the waste into the Sangker River for several days after part of the factory’s sewage system was broken.
The main problem has been fixed, but some of the wastewater is still leaking into the O Neang and Tek O Treng streams that feed into the Sangker, officials said.
Villagers living near the factory said farmers have gotten sick from eating fish killed by the pollution in the streams.
“We can’t even walk close to the water, it smells so bad,” one resident told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Villagers were worried about the problem because they rely on the two streams for water for their crops, he added.
Officials said they have no information yet about the volume of waste dumped by the factory, which treats about 160 tons of cassava per day in a process that produces strong-smelling by-products.
Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment has sent experts to clean up the sewage, collect samples, and evaluate the impact of the leak, the ministry’s undersecretary of state Tea Chhub said.
“We can’t draw any conclusions yet. We will analyze our data first,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
District Governor Ser Sameth said authorities have asked the factory to resolve the issue and sign a document committing them not to release more sewage into the streams, from which villagers draw water for daily use.
“The water used for cleaning the cassava was leaked into streams and rivers,” he said.
A factory official surnamed Hout contacted by RFA refused to comment on the problem.
The Sangker River flows through six districts in Battambang province before draining into the Tonle Sap lake, a rich fishing ground in Cambodia and the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia.
The upper section of the Sangker River is located in an area which is the last intact tropical forest in Battambang province.
Reported by Ouk Savbory for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.