Last month, an explosion at a Sri Lankan Coca-Cola plant resulted in a major fuel spill into the local water. News media has yet to disclose the volume of the spill but reports allege that Coca-Cola Sri Lanka has been fined up to Rs. 1 billion (US $7.2 million).
In a press release, Coca-Cola Beverages Sri Lanka acknowledged that a diesel spill had taken place at its factory in Biyagama on August 17. “[O]ur staff noticed a leakage of diesel from a fuel pipe line,” the company states. “The leak was plugged immediately by the staff on night duty. However, by the time this leak was plugged, some oil had escaped into the nearby water body, through storm water drainage system.”
The diesel contaminated the Kelani River, which is the primary drinking water source for millions of Sri Lankans. Coca-Cola’s Environment Protection License had actually been suspended and its Biyagama factory shut down before news of the contamination spread.
Deputy Manager of Western Production at the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) Ranjith Perera told The Nation that the attempt to cleanse the oil slick at the Ambatale Water Treatment Planet was a nine-hour process. Perera was forced to close the plant.
The NWSDB received over 300 complaints from callers complaining of a foul odor and taste in their water.
“Mistrust among the general public is a huge blow to the institution,” said Perera.
Professor Lal Dharmasiri, Chairman of the Central Environment Authority, has said that the spill lost the government more than it did Coca-Cola. “We still don’t know the extent of the damage to the NSWB filters and clarifies,” he said. “The CEA itself had to employ so many people on a day when they were supposed to be granted leave. He said that CEA had to release water from the Laxapana reservoir to flush out the contaminated water.”
It is unknown if diesel was the sole contaminant in the spill or if other benzenes were involved. Water samples have been sent to India for analysis, as Sri Lanka lacks the facilities to test the water itself.
Coca-Cola has promised to compensate the victims of the spill and that it will replenish all the water used in making its beverages by the end of 2015. Over 500,000 cubic meters of water has already been wasted, according to The Nation.