The National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC – Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservacion) has launched an investigation against Pali in Samara for allegedly polluting the Lagarto river.
The study began near the end of May in response to complaints from area residents that were presented to the government entity.
“The investigation involves possible pollution by the Samara Pali Supermarket, which discharges [water] from a treatment plant into the Lagarto Estuary,” confirmed Ciro Javier Montero, an official with the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE – Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia) in Nicoya.
However, according to Montero, in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s indications, Pali meets the permissible levels of contamination established by the Law of Discharges.
For her part, Yolanda Fernandez, manager of corporate issues for Pali, explained that she could not speak about the investigation, as it is an ongoing process. However, she affirmed that Pali has all of the relevant permits.
“Pali’s treatment plant is working at 100% of its capacity and the water discharged in the river is not outside of the legal limits. To the contrary, in the last analysis, the results showed less than one coliform per 100 mL,” explained Fernandez.
Those levels are considered adequate for swimming, though non-chlorinated water with a presence of more than 1.8 coliforms per 100 mL is considered inadequate for drinking, according to the microbiological laboratory of the University of Costa Rica (UCR – Universidad de Costa Rica). The current limit set by MINAE for sewage, last updated in 2007, is 1000 fecal coliforms per 100 mL for wastewater that is discharged into waters used for primary contact recreational activities such as swimming.
Montero explained that, if the investigation finds contamination, the case could be taken to an environmental court.
Although recent evidence that Pali discharges polluted water into the Lagarto River is lacking, some residents are sure that the water coming out of the store’s drainage tube smells bad and is dirty.
According to Karla Jiron, a Samara resident, the foul smells released by Pali’s tube are constant.
“The water that comes out of the tube is dirty. Just looking at the [Lagarto] river makes you disgusted. No one swims in that river any more. Everyone used to swim in that river before they opened Pali. I swam there; we had parties for [the] Juan Santamaria [holiday] there, but now it is disgusting,” said Jiron.
In addition, according to the Samara resident, the community is organizing itself to collect signatures and draw up a document for the Ministry of Health to expound on the subject of the river.
Another person upset with the company is the president of the Samara ASADA, Carlos Esquivel. He presented a complaint regarding the situation before the Municipal Council of Nicoya. However, the municipality explained that it is not their jurisdiction to handle that kind of complaint.
“It’s a shame to see a company like Pali polluting the ocean. The water that they discharge in the river ends up in the ocean. Pali’s [treatment] plant can work with a little water, but with Pali’s load I don’t think it works, because it includes dirty water from the meat department and the water smells very bad,” said Esquivel.
For his part, Montero explained that although the Lagarto River isn’t categorized as primary contact, Pali could be affecting the Lagarto Estuary.
The Lagarto River’s water empties into the estuary with the same name. Estuaries are marshy areas that typically fill with water from the river or rain. The Lagarto Estuary empties into the ocean at Samara Beach.
“The law designates rivers of primary contact as those that are visited by tourists. However, in this case we are dealing with the protection of an estuary, which has special protection due to its fragility and international protection agreements,” specified the MINAE official.
According to Yolanda Fernandez, community residents sealed Pali’s discharge tube at the beginning of July, which created problems with the treatment plant and in turn caused more damage.
“They sealed the water pipe with cement and a PVC tube, which stopped the normal flow of fully-treated water. So if the water doesn’t have an exit, it returns. Upon returning, the water again flows into the treatment plant, and there the waste is recycled and it has to leave again,” said Fernandez.
In addition to possible contamination, Samara residents have also complained about the bad odors noticed in the supermarket’s parking lot. Therefore, the company has initiated actions to resolve the problem.
According to Fernandez, the store will be contracting an additional trash collection service through a company appropriately licensed for the activity. Trash will also be frozen to avoid bad odors in the supermarket.
Although Pali has not participated in any environmental campaigns until now, Yolanda Fernandez stated that they will be implementing social responsibility programs in the near future.
“At this time we don’t have the projects in Samara, but in the future we will, as we have done in all the communities in which we operate. We have a robust social responsibility program that ranges from volunteerism to donations to non-profit organizations,” explained Fernandez.