Environment: With the increasing number of vehicles being registered every year in Thimphu, car-wash facilities along the Lungtenzampa-Babesa highway are increasing. And with it, the negative environmental impacts.

Today, all the drains that carry the effluents released from car-wash facilities connect directly to the river (Wangchhu), posing threat to aquatic lives and food chain.

A report by the Asian Development Bank in 2010, found that approximately 6.5 million  litres of car-wash wastewater or effluent is generated every year, the largest volume of waste generated by the automobile workshops in the country. The report predicts that by 2018, around 21.2 million litres of car wash wastewater will be generated.

That means if a car-wash facility do not have proper wastewater treatment plant in place, effluents ending up in the river is going to be more.

However, the good news is that most of the owners of the car-wash facilities along the highway have already implemented wastewater treatment systems in place.

Owner of the Penchu Car Wash, Passang, has been running the business for almost two years, but without a treatment plant in place. The effluents are released directly into the river.

“It was just recently that I was asked to put up a wastewater treatment plant when I went to renew the environmental clearance. I’m waiting for a sample of the plant,” Passang said. “I was never asked to implement a treatment plant until now.”

Passang is investing about 0.4 million for three wastewater treatment plants. It will be another few months before the effluent sgenerated from the car-wash facility is treated before releasing it to the river.

ST Auto Spa’s Sangay Tshering has three-wastewater treatment plants. He had them since the beginning of the business.

“It is mandatory that one keep environmental conservation in check. I have invested extra money into procuring these environmentally friendly treatment plants, which at the end of the day is worth it,” Sangay Tshering said. “It’s high time that every owner of the car wash facility invest some income towards adopting such measures.” At the Spa, about 80 percent of the wastewater is also recycled through a recycling plant.

“Car-wash run-off contains oil, toxic detergents and other chemicals that affect the water quality and threaten the lives of aquatic habitat and food chain,” Sangay Tshering said. “It would make a difference if other car wash owners also follow such standard procedures. Relevant authorities should also monitor from time to time.”

Other car-wash facilities like Kuenphen Car Wash have implemented a simpler filtration system, which filters oil and sand from the wastewater before releasing it into the river.

Car-wash facilities cater to 25 to 50 vehicles daily.

Thromde’s chief environmental officer, Tshering Penjor, said it is mandatory for each car-wash facility to at least have a simple preliminary treatment plant if one can’t afford a sophisticated treatment plant.

“Currently, most of the vehicles are washed manually with the use of shampoo and detergents. When these effluents are released, it also contains high levels of oil and grease, silt and unacceptable levels of acidity or alkalinity,” he said. “When these are released into the river bodies, untreated, it would highly contaminate the water bodies.”

Other impacts of releasing untreated wastewater into the rivers, streams or lakes, include stripping away of fishes’ protective coating resulting in their absorbing double the amount of chemicals and also resulting in the killing of fish eggs, Tshering Penjor said.

“However, with modern commercial facilities, there will be less impact since the effluents are already treated,” he said. “Today, there are environment-friendly modern vehicle washing techniques available along with recycling plant and biodegradable washing soap as well.”

With such options available, people should start implementing such facilities despite extra expenditures, Tshering Penjor said.

Today, there are a total of 68,685 vehicles are registered in the country, out of which more than half – 36,273 – are in Thimphu. Every month, about 600 new driving licenses are issued and 300 are issued in Thimphu alone.

Thinley Zangmo