Saturday 29 December 2012

Dump illegal substances into sewers? Sensors will smell a rat

Devices placed near factories help PUB protect S'pore's water network
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2012

COMPANIES that dump their waste chemicals into the sewage system will now be up against a smarter opponent.

National water agency PUB has installed a $2.5 million network of 40 sensors across the island to help it nab such offenders.

They can detect up to 400 chemicals and are sensitive enough to pick up highly diluted concentrations of the substances.

Previously, PUB officers had to check the sewers with hand-held devices to identify toxic compounds like solvents and paint.

The new sensors are placed at points in the sewers that serve large clusters of factories, such as those in Kranji and Jurong's industrial areas.

These include sectors which are heavily reliant on chemicals, such as pharmaceutical and food companies, and toxic industrial waste collectors.

Since the monitoring network went online last month, it has alerted PUB officers to 20 instances of pollutants being dumped in the water.

The agency has identified the culprits in almost all of the cases and investigations are ongoing, it said during a briefing on the sensors yesterday.

PUB senior engineer Idaly Mamat said toxic and flammable chemicals in the water could endanger workers.

"An overly high concentration and illegal discharge of the volatile organic compounds could also affect the structural integrity of the public sewers," he added.

The agency said it is studying the sensors' effectiveness and will decide later whether to install more of them.

The new surveillance system is only the latest weapon in the PUB's arsenal to protect Singapore's water network.

To deter polluters, fines for dumping waste water with illegal substances under the Sewerage and Drainage (Trade Effluent) Regulations will be raised from $5,000 now to $15,000 next year. This is to align it with harsher penalties in the Sewerage and Drainage (Amendment) Act which took effect in September.

A new law introduced in April also allows PUB officers to enter homes and other buildings without notice, even if the occupants are not around.

Previously, the agency had to give advance notice of at least six hours, which could be a handicap when it came to gathering evidence of wrongdoing.

It can now react faster to search premises and collect evidence such as documents and water samples, and also compel the relevant parties to help out with investigations.

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