PETALING JAYA, Feb 17 — Poor practises in bauxite mining in Pahang have exposed the people in the affected areas to various health threats, say scientists and academics studying the issue.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Assoc Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed said the mining had contaminated the people’s drinking water with heavy metals, which were dangerous to consume.
“Almost all the water for consumption in Kuantan is drawn downstream from the mines.
“The full impact of this is not appreciated as water samples drawn for testing by the Department of Environment were not from rivers used for drinking water,” he said.
Speaking at a forum on bauxite mining organised by Malaysian Academy of Science and University Malaya yesterday, Maketab warned that a rash of severe health conditions could break out.
“The effects of heavy metal poisoning are well documented and horrific. Japan faced similar problems in the 1950s with Minamata and Itai Itai diseases.
“In the case of Itai Itai, the victims had the calcium in their bones displaced by cadmium, resulting in skeletal deformation and chronic pain,” he said.
Both illnesses were the result of sustained heavy metal poisoning that left thousands suffering from a range of chronic conditions.
Unregulated bauxite mining in Pahang had caused severe environmental pollution and raised concerns over the health of those living in affected areas.
The Pahang Fisheries Department had issued a warning against the consumption of seafood caught in the waters off Kuantan on Dec 30 after the sea turned red from bauxite run-off.
Maketab warned that the bio-accumulation of heavy metals posed a long term risk, as they would gradually make their way up the food chain.
“Heavy metals will gradually build up in food sources and contaminate every step of the food chain, potentially showing up in seafood in high concentrations,” he said.
He also urged the authorities to be forthcoming with the test results and make accurate recommendations to the public.
“There are water quality monitoring stations in the area collecting data on a regular basis but this has not been released for study.
“The people have the right to know. They must tell the public of the health risks and conduct detailed tests on what is safe and what is not,” he said.
United Nations University Professor of Environmental Health Prof Dr Jamal Hisham Hashim said one way to reducing contamination from the ore, especially at stockpile sites, would be to move it away from water sources.
“Currently, the stockpile at the Kuantan Port poses risks to the marine environment in the form of run-off during poor weather conditions.
“The proposed ‘central’ stockpile should be located away from the coast or river system, to avoid contamination to surface water and aquatic food sources,” he said.
Jamal said the area needed to have an adequate buffer zone between the nearest residential areas and commercially used land.
“The stockpile should also include a dust suppression system, as used in coal mines, to prevent fine particles of the ore being carried by the wind,” he said.
Jamal also urged the state government to make Environmental Impact Assessment reports before issuing mining licences in future and tighten regulations.
“The licences should not be given to just anybody. Mining is a serious business and regulations concerning it should be taken seriously.
“Only miners with the resources to comply with regulations on equipment and procedures should be allowed to operate,” he said.