SINGAPORE — Since 2014, 119 companies have been prosecuted by the national water agency Public Utilities Board (PUB) for illegally dumping trade effluent, or liquid waste created by businesses, into public sewers, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources and Health Amy Khor on Tuesday (6 August).
Of these, 21 companies are second-time offenders and 23 committed the offences three or more times, said Dr Khor in response to a parliamentary question filed by non-constituency Member of Parliament (MP) Associate Professor Daniel Goh.
Under the Sewerage and Drainage Act, companies have to obtain written approvals from the PUB before they can discharge trade effluent into sewers. Any discharge has to comply with stipulated quality requirements.
Dr Khor said about 5,000 such written approvals have been granted to premises and companies, adding that “majority” comply with requirements.
“But from time to time, there are some who do not comply and the PUB takes this very, very seriously,” she noted.
Companies who repeatedly offend will face harsher penalties and be subjected to more frequent inspections by the PUB, as well as potentially have their written approvals suspended or revoked, Dr Khor said.
For severe cases where the discharge contains toxic, dangerous or hazardous substances, an immediate stop-order notice will be issued by the PUB to prevent the company from further discharging trade effluent into public sewers, she added.
This order will be lifted only when the company has implemented remedial measures.
“We take a serious view of illegal discharge of trade effluent into our sewers. We will not hesitate to take enforcement action against companies that threaten the quality of water supply,” she said.
BreadTalk given largest fine
Assoc Prof Goh asked if constant surveillance successfully deter companies, citing a popular bakery, which he did not name, that has been repeatedly charged for illegally discharging trade effluent into public sewers – in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
In June, the PUB announced that that 38 companies were prosecuted from June 2018 to May this year and fined a total of $253,700 for the illegal discharge of trade effluent into public sewers.
Among them was bakery and food manufacturing company BreadTalk, which has been prosecuted for such offences on multiple instances since 2014. Among the 38 companies, it was given the highest fine of $16,300.
He also asked about the considerations that the PUB have to revoke written approvals as well as why fines for repeated offenders typically do not exceed $20,000, as per media reports.
Dr Khor noted that “stringent enforcement”, including issuing written approvals and the management of about 3,500km of sewers by the PUB, is carried out together with a suite of measures, such as deploying online sensors in the public sewerage system for early detection and conducting unannounced on-site surveillance visits.
For instance, she added that such visits can be increased to “as often as twice a month” for repeat offenders, with some of them required to install their own online water quality monitoring sensors.
“If they are very egregious, we will revoke the written approval, which means that if they want to continue business, they will have to engage the services of a licensed toxic industrial waste collector,” said Dr Khor.
Under the Sewerage and Drainage Act, offenders who illegally discharge trade effluent containing dangerous or hazardous substances into the public sewer will be fined up to $50,000 for the first offence and a maximum fine of $100,000 for repeat offenders.