Environmental Catastrophe in the making?

bauxite_mining

Bauxite mining in Pahang had previously received opposition from environmentalists. The recent expose of environmental pollution in a local newspaper is cause for concern. Contamination of a nearby river was blamed and traces of arsenic and heavy metals were detected in fish and vegetables in nearby areas. The Ministry of Health has recommended the immediate suspension of bauxite mining in light of possible detrimental health effects to humans. However, the Mentri Besar of Pahang is putting profit above safety and is refusing to close these mines citing mainly economic reasons.

Bauxite is mined so that aluminum can be extracted. However the by products of this extraction called “red mud” contains many hazardous materials which results in problems of disposal. Storage of red mud can become an issue when the mining continues and the amount of this by product increases. Escalation of cost in the long term storage of red mud can be a factor that might lead to the mining industry opting to release this waste into the surrounding enviroment. Release of this waste can be a potential environmental catastrophe in the years to come, damaging human health.

The satellite images from the NST report clearly showed the extent of the mining and some surrounding “ponds” likely containing red mud. How and when this materials will be disposed of, is unknown. The monitoring of strict containment of this material is also suspect.

There needs to be a greater outcry about this developing situation. With clear indisputable evidence of contamination, the health of the surrounding population has to be the priority and not profit.

It is hoped that there is greater transparency and more pressure is put on the mining companies to detail its environmental protection measures. The people of Malaysia deserves a full explanation.

Below is the full report from NST

Bauxite Mining

8 OCTOBER 2015 @ 11:02 AM BY FARRAH NAZ KARIM AND ALIZA SHAH KUALA LUMPUR:

AS Pahang waits to hear from the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) on possibly hazardous and potentially radioactive contents in samples taken from its many bauxite mines, revelations that the state government simply cannot ignore have emerged.

Following the New Straits Times’ Special Probes Team’s exclusive series on contamination from uncontrolled bauxite mining almost two months ago, agencies responsible for ensuring a sustainable environment and public health, such as the Fisheries and Chemistry Departments, carried out their own investigations at several areas, including where the team had extracted samples — Sungai Pengorak and Pantai Pengorak in Kuantan — and sent for laboratory testing. Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told the NST that results from several laboratory analyses conducted by the Pahang Department of Environment confirmed that bauxite-mining activities in the state had led to various environmental contamination.

Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob, in reacting to the expose, had said the state government would only decide on its next course of action in about a month, once the AELB, which carries out tests only for the presence of radiation in the mining sites’ samples, concluded its report. This was on Aug 17. Authorities have suggested that bauxite mining would only start scaling down more than a year from now as the resource in the state was abundant. AELB does not carry out tests to determine the presence of heavy metals or air pollution, be it on the samples or for public health. The undisputable results from these agencies, which studied samples taken five times between May 15 and Aug 3 at the two water sources, confirmed the NST’s report that they contained heavy metals that exceeded allowable limits. Wan Junaidi disclosed that the level of aluminium, silver, cadmium, iron (ferum), lead, chromium and mangan in Sungai Pengorak exceeded the limits of Class III of the National River Water Quality Standards.

This means that water in the river is of the same class as water in irrigation. The sampling by these federal agencies also revealed that in Pantai Pengorak, the level of lead, chromium, copper and zinc exceeded allowable limits and was worse than the quality in mangrove estuarine; the worst that it can be under the Marine Water Quality Criteria and Standards. In the same reading, these authorities, independent of the state government, found high concentrations of mercury, so much so that it exceeded the lowest class possible of the water quality guideline. Exposure to mercury, even small amounts, could cause serious health problems, and is a threat to the development of unborn children and early in life. Mercury can have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on the lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. Mercury is considered by the World Health Organisation as one of the top 10 chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern. People are usually exposed to mercury when eating fish and shellfish that contain the compound, which is a naturally occurring element found in bauxite.

Wan Junaidi also said that the Total Suspended Particulate (TSP) in Kuantan Port was far above the maximum level set in the Malaysia Ambient Air Quality Guidelines (maximum: 260 micrograms [ug] per cubic metre [m3]). These samples were taken weeks before the current haze first hit the country. Wan Junaidi said readings of Particulate Matters (PM10) carried out between Aug 17 and Sept 3 showed unhealthy readings of up to 478 ug/m3 (this reading is three times more than the 150 ug/m3 standard limit for PM10 under the Malaysia Ambient Air Quality Guidelines).

The Health Ministry, following the expose, had also said that mining of bauxite in the state should be halted as it would be the most effective solution to the worsening health and environmental situation due to bauxite contamination. The ministry had said the increase in bauxite-mining activities in recent times in Pahang had contributed to an increase in the number of health complications, such as respiratory and allergy problems, and that the long-term worry was cancer. The ministry said findings from the testing of numerous samples, including of fish and vegetables, were similar to those highlighted by the NST, as traces of heavy metals and arsenic were present.

Adnan said a shutdown order could not be issued as “issues, like loss of income for landowners, mining workers, including lorry drivers, needed to be considered, too”. He pointed out that the state government had earned at least RM37 million from the five per cent royalties imposed on revenue from bauxite mining. To the Federal Government, the economic returns could never make up for the adverse effects posed by poorly regulated bauxite mining. Only about RM1 billion from bauxite mining had gone into the national coffers since 2013. “The returns are not big but the environmental impact is massive. “So, the state government must make a decision whether or not it plans to stop or better regulate its mining activities,” Wan Junaidi said.
Selanjutnya di : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2015/10/depts-confirm-contamination?m=1