The toxic backyards of green Thimphu

Bitumen left spilling over Thujidra stream. Who takes the blame?

By Tashi Namgyal
Thimphu

In the name of storage, thousands of barrels containing bitumen has been left rather unattended along the banks of Thujidra stream near the double turning in Motithang.
A major tourist trail and a geographically, environmentally and aesthetically fragile area, the area (stockyard) where the toxic elements are piled up proves to be an eyesore.
As if this is not enough, most of the drums are found leaking and the toxic agents from the spillage are directly flowing into the stream which passes through Motithang, Kawangjangsa and Chubachhu areas, eventually ending up into the Thimchhu.
According to the National Environment Commission (NEC), the spillage of bitumen into the stream will have huge impacts on the aquatic flora and fauna.
Apart from the direct toxic effect of spillage on the aquatic environment, contamination of soil components by bitumen disrupts the activities of soil microorganisms and nutrient availability to plants.
Continuous exposure to high temperatures for days and months could also lead to the spillage triggering a spark leading to fire hazards in the vicinity.
On the aesthetic front, tour operators and by-passers said that the area looks an eyesore given the fact that it resides right below the way to one of the major public hotspot in the Capital City-Sangaygang.
Some people also said that letting the containers lie there unused and leaking is synonymous to letting tax-payers’ money and government resources go to waste.
“Whoever is responsible for this must come out and quick, and do the needful before the problem aggravates”, said a nearby resident, Ugyen.
Who permits such activities?
Officials from the NEC said that this case is out of their jurisdiction. They can only do much as a planner and policy maker for issues related to the environment.
According to the laws of the country, such activities are segregated in three lists of Green, Blue and Red depending on their type with an authority to regulate each one of them.
Activities falling under the Green list are minor ones which needs no permission from NEC. For those activities falling under the Blue list, competent authorities will review the case before taking any stance.
Activities for mega projects and national parks fall under the Red list which calls for the intervention of NEC.
Similarly, the activities taking place under government land is looked after by the Thromde and the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS). If it is taking place within the bounds of government reserved forest (GRF) land, the Department of Forest under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) is the sole authority.
The land in the context of this story falls under government land.
Bitumen is scientifically defined as an amorphous, black or dark-colored, (solid, semi-solid, or viscous) cementitious substance, composed principally of high molecular weight hydrocarbons, and soluble in carbon disulfide.
Coal tar contains many chemical constituents, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Many PAHs have been found to be probable human carcinogens and toxic to aquatic organisms, raising concern if the PAHs mobilize to the environmental from the location of rejuvenator application.
Bituminous materials are used for road construction, roofing, waterproofing, and other applications.
Meanwhile, Bhutan TODAY could not obtain any comments from the Thromde office despite emailed questions respecting their media protocols.

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