The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) has ordered the immediate closure of Leather Industries of Uganda, a Jinja-based leather tanning factory.
NEMA accuses Leather Industries of refusing to adhere to guidelines against pollution. It says the industry has continued to choke Jinja town with a lead-laden gaseous pollutant and is discharging untreated waste into Lake Victoria.
Henry Aryamanya Mugisha, the NEMA Executive Director, says the Authority has warned Leather Industries of Uganda to comply with environmental guidelines, but it has consistently ignored the advice.
The last letter of warning was sent was on October 27th this year.
In the letter, Aryamanya Mugisha says NEMA conducted an environmental audit of the factory and found it had broken a compliance agreement signed just 19 months before. He says Leather Industries is burying precipitated chrome in pits right next to Lake Victoria and has dug channels to dump waste water directly into a wetland.
The factory workers are also accused of improperly disposing of leather waste trimming, causing a foul smell to spread around Jinja town.
The NEMA director says it isn't just ordinary residents of Jinja who are affected. He says factory workers have no personal protective gear and they are exposed to numerous toxins because of the heavy chemicals they use.
In March 2008, when Leather Industries signed a compliance agreement with NEMA, it promised to clean up its act within two weeks. It was given permission to use a facility at Gomba Fish Factory for treatment of waste, but the environmental audit found Leather Industries is still discharging untreated effluent fro the fish factory into Lake Victoria.
No one at the leather factory was willing to comment on the impending closure.
This isn't the first time Leather Industries of Uganda has been accused of gross pollution.
In 1999, an independent study of pollution in Jinja Municipality by Hannington Oguttu, an environmental scientist from Makerere University, found that Leather Industries used more sodium, chloride, sulphides and acids than are permitted by government. This led to increased amounts of chromium in waste water.
A separate study conduted between 1997 and 1998 by scientists from the Fisheries Resource Research Institute and Makerere University found that food processing, textile, leather, paper production and metallurgy factories in Jinja were the largest offenders of pollution of Lake Victoria. Concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus from fish-filleting industries and chromium from the tannery were far above the allowed effluent limits in Uganda.