The moratorium on bauxite mining in Pahang has been extended for the third time, and it will end on Dec 31. Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Jaafar says there are still about 4.13 million metric tonnes of bauxite stockpile yet to be cleared and exported.
If the stockpile is still not cleared by the yearend, he would consider proposing another six-month extension to prevent pollution. The moratorium, announced on Jan 15, was originally intended for only three months.
The deadline is to protect the interests of bauxite miners and the country’s revenue generated from bauxite export.
Dangers posed by pollution due to bauxite mining have been identified since the discovery of huge bauxite deposits around Kuantan in 2013. Overmining not only threatens the health of those who live in the affected areas but it has also contaminated the sea off Kuantan.
Samples of fish were found to have high arsenic levels. The Food Regulation 1985 Act states that the permissible level for arsenic in fish and fishery product is 1mg/kg, but the mean reading for arsenic in the three fish samples that were submitted for tests was at 101.5mg/kg.
Not only the arsenic levels are highly over the permissible level, arsenic and nickel are detected in the samples. They can cause cancer.
According to Environmental health expert Professor Dr Jamal Hisham Hashim, the concentration of these heavy metals would be higher in fish that had been in the water for a longer time.
This also means that marine life in that area had already been contaminated due to bauxite mining. Pollution cannot be undone, but it can only be stopped. Pollution will continue unless if Wan Junaidi orders for a permanent ban on bauxite mining.
As long as bauxite is mined excessively in the area, the people there would be exposed to arsenic poisoning. There is no guarantee that contaminated fish would end up on the plate.
Bukit Goh Bauxite Coordinating Committee chairman Datuk Dr Abdul Wahid Abd fears a ban would lead to financial problems for those depending totally on bauxite and might resort to illegal mining.
Mostly Kuantan residents are still haunted by the red mist due to bauxite mining.
Wan Junaidi has said 38 special approved permits (APs) to clear the bauxite stockpiles had been given out. In his recent reply to requests for sanctions against companies that fail to clear their stock, he made a comparison to APs given to car sellers.
“This is just like when we give people AP to sell cars. If they don’t sell the cars, we cannot take action because they didn’t sell, we just stop their AP. If they do not sell then they won’t get money, so we cannot force,” he said.
To draw such a comparison between the two industries does not do justice to the people affected or help to safeguard the ecosystem in mined areas around Kuantan. If a moratorium doesn’t solve the problem, a permanent solution is needed.
Soo Wern Jun