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Monday January 18, 2016
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An officer from the Environment Department collects water samples from Sungai Balok which has turned red, believed due to bauxite pollution, at Kuantan, December 3, 2015. — Bernama picAn officer from the Environment Department collects water samples from Sungai Balok which has turned red, believed due to bauxite pollution, at Kuantan, December 3, 2015. — Bernama picKUANTAN, Jan 18 — A university geologist hoped the government would make use of the three-month moratorium on bauxite mining in Pahang to draw up a more stringent standard operating procedure.

Assoc Prof Dr Habibah Jamil from the Science and Technology Faculty at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia stressed that bauxite mining could adversely impact the food chain and should therefore be carried out in isolation.

She said long term exposure to the chemical elements in bauxite which can enter the body directly or through food could threaten health.

“Bauxite has a high content of aluminium hydroxide, iron oxide and chromium other than clay.

“These elements are inside the fine dust and can be absorbed into the body through inhalation. Also, when they enter the river or sea, they might be consumed by small marine animals on the riverbed and fish,” she told Bernama.

The chemicals would then enter the human body which consumes the contaminated river and marine resources. 

According to her, the bauxite in Kuantan contained 32 to 52 per cent of aluminium hydroxide and between 14 and 32 per cent of iron oxide, which was what gave Kuantan the appearance of ‘planet Mars’.

“Long term exposure to aluminium hydroxide can cause Alzheimer’s Disease while iron oxide when inhaled will damage the liver,” she said.

She said the bauxite in Kuantan also contained a high level of chromium, compared to soil, between 409 and 1227 part per million (ppm).

However, she said, it could not be determined whether it is chromium III which is not harmful or chromium VI which can cause cancer after long exposure.

Habibah said plants react differently to chemicals particularly heavy metal.

“If the exposure is high, the leaves will turn yellow, or the tree will not bear fruit or die quickly.

“Some plants can store the heavy metal in their trunks, leaves and fruits.  The contaminated fruits may be eaten by humans and animals resulting in an unhealthy food chain.”

She said the consequences would be similar when the heavy metal pollute the river or sea which are the habitat for fish and marine life.

“The red mud will make the river or sea water murky, causing the fish to die because of lack of oxygen. The fish that managed to survive will store the metal in their body including gills, head and flesh.

“At the same time, this chemical will be consumed by benthos or flora and fauna at the bottom of the river or sea.         

“When we catch and eat the fish, the metal go into our body’s system. What is more worrying is when the food chain keeps extending, causing the heavy metal to become more concentrated and a health hazard for humans.

“The adverse effects on humans may only be seen after many years. Hence bauxite mining should only be done far away from human habitation or unpopulated areas.

“The scenario in Kuantan is that the bauxite mining was done in haste, to seize the market left by Indonesia, and without an in-depth study.

“Hopefully during the moratorium period, a plan of action could be prepared to avoid a future dilemma for the residents in Kuantan,” she said. — Bernama

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