Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Pharmaceutical Company Contaminates Sangke River, Battambang Authorities Say 

Sangke River was polluted by a Chinese pharmacy company which leaked chemicals into the river. Photo taken on August 4, 2023. (CamboJA/Sok Savy)
Sangke River was polluted by a Chinese pharmacy company which leaked chemicals into the river. Photo taken on August 4, 2023. (CamboJA/Sok Savy)

A pharmaceutical company leaked chemicals into the Sangke River, contaminating water used by community members and killing fish, according to Battambang provincial authorities.

Rattanak Mondul district Governor Kuy Vanno told CamboJA Friday afternoon that authorities issued a final warning to the Chinese company Phoenix Industrial, as this is the second time the company has dumped contaminants into the river since 2021.

“[The company] caused the leak like people said. The Environment Department is investigating what kind of liquid flows into the Sangke River,” he said. “The water in the river turns black and the black substance does not dissolve into the water.” 

When CamboJA contacted the number listed for the company on the Commerce Ministry website, a person named Nika, who would not give her full name, said her company signed an agreement with the authorities promising not to dump or drain out chemical substances into the river again.

“The company has now settled with the authorities on measures to prevent this [wastewater] from happening again,” she said.

Battambang Water Supply Authority​ (BWSA) announced Friday morning that the area’s water supply from Sangke River still met quality standards, despite containing polluted substances, in a Facebook post that was deleted in the afternoon.

“Until now, the quality of the water is still good,” the statement read. “BWSA has inspected the actual condition of the water source in Sangke River and as a result found that the water in Sangke River was indeed polluted.” 

BWSA said they worked with technical experts to inspect the water quality in response to community members’ complaints. The authority assigned a team of water quality control laboratory experts to monitor the water quality on a regular basis. 

Banan Santepheap News reported on Thursday that local people in Banan district said a poisonous liquid was flowing into the river. 

Chenda, a resident of Bak Rotes village in Ek Phnom district which is also along the river, said she noticed three days ago that the water in the Sangke River behind her house turned red and dirty.

“There is no other clean water to use, only the water from the river. The water turned red and dirty, so to have water to use, I must mix it with aluminum sulfate to make it better,” she said. “I’m scared and worried about my health.”

Authorities had not come to tell her about whether the water was polluted, she said.

She said she buys clean drinking water, but uses river water for washing clothes, cooking and bathing. Her family members often have diarrhea, and she said she is concerned about health problems caused by the water. 

Phoenix Industrial ​was accused of dumping contaminated water from its factory into Sangke River​ and killing freshwater fish in 2021. Authorities discovered that the Sangke River contained acid and other pigmented substances from the factory after the Environment Ministry conducted testing. The authorities and the factory agreed on specific standards for wastewater from the factory. 

On Friday, Battambang provincial Environment Department Director Kort Boran said a team of about 40 people from the ministry and relevant stakeholders are investigating the situation and examining contaminated water. He said the contamination could have been triggered by recent rain and flooding in the area, affecting factory facilities and causing a leak. 

Batambang provincial Governor Sok Lou said the authorities and related ministries are conducting an investigation into the company’s plant to find the root cause of the polluted water. 

“Our team is now at the company to find where the water is coming from to prevent and make sure it will not happen again,” he said. 

Adhoc’s coordinator for Battambang, Yin Mengly, told CamboJA that authorities along with other stakeholders should work together towards managing water pollution for sustainable development for the well-being of citizens and the environment. 

“If the water pollution comes from the factory, the authorities must hold them accountable in accordance with the law,” he added. “The public must be informed of the impact of polluted water so that they can avoid any risk.”

Director of Battambang’s provincial Water Resources Department Long Phal Khun declined a request for comment via Telegram.