Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Red Threat - Are Malaysians still being poisoned with arsenic, etc because government not bothered?

Once, it was highlighted that the fish caught in the river/s in Kuantan had more than 100 times above the permissible safe arsenic levels, one would have expected any caring government to take steps that these unsafe food will not be sold or consumed by the public (the rakyat)...

New Straits Time's Probe Team's (which I would say is independent) has done a GOOD JOB in highlighting this.
'...level of arsenic found in fish caught in the water sources in the area at 101.5 mg/kg is way above the permissible level of of 1mg/kg...' 
'...Magnesium levels found were some three times higher than the tolerable daily intake for adults...'
- The Health Ministry agrees with NST's findings - suggested shutting down bauxite mines
'...Dr Hilmi[Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya] said the ministry’s findings from the numerous samples tested were also similar to those highlighted by the NST. “We have tested various samples. Fish, vegetables, etc. We, too, found heavy metals and arsenic in some of them.”..Dr Hilmi cautioned the people to be extremely careful when consuming such fishes and vegetables,
“The increase in bauxite mining activities in recent times has contributed to the increase in a number of health complications, such as respiratory and allergy problems. This is not good in the long run, as it can lead to cancer.... 
SHUTTING down all bauxite mines in Pahang is the most effective solution to the worsening health and environmental hazards due to bauxite contamination, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya said. 
See earlier post, which has also reference to the relevant news reports :-

Pahang:- Fish high arsenic levels? - Suspend Bauxite Mining Now - Health More Important than Money??

Bauxite Mining Pahang:Seafood and Vege from Kuantan?Arsenic/Magnesium Poisoning? Safe for Consumption?

What I would have expected from a caring government?

- Immediate steps to warn public of the dangers of consumption of seafood, river fish and vegetables with above safe levels  of arsenic...magnesium.

- Immediate action to stop the consumption and sale of such 'contaminated' food from the said affected areas [Remember, if river fish has been found with arsenic content above 100 times the safe permissible levels, we are no more suffering from a potential RISK but were actually in danger now - and this expose by New Straits Times(NST), supported also by the Ministry of Health, means that our condition was serious - and as the contamination had been shown to have not just affected the soil and waters but really livestock and plant-life] 

- Immediate ban on fishing, harvesting of plant products, slaughter and sale of meat products from the affected area - and, of course immediate compensation to the fisherman, farmers, animal breeders and other who will naturally suffer a loss of immediate income - and maybe also future income losses for we do not know how long it will take before the effects of the contamination could be eradicated...and the arsenic levels is brought dowm to safe ...permissible levels.

The Sea near Kuantan Port turning red - Star,16/5/2015
- Immediately, do testing for arsenic levels in soil. water, fish, seafood, vegetables, poultry, and meat from the said area - a mapping of the affected area needs to be done immediately so Malaysian government (or the Pahang government) will not be faulted with allowing people to consume 'poisons'...

Hundreds of dead cockles on the shores of Pantai Pengorak, Kuantan - linked to bauxite mining?, NST, 3/8/2015
- Immediately determine the source of the contamination - and STOP it. It was alleged that the source was the bauxite mining operations (aluminium)... 

Rahim [Geochemistry and marine radiochemistry expert Professor Dr Che Abd Rahim Mohamed] said the nutrient-rich run-off from bauxite would enter waterways, triggering a bloom of harmful microalgae in the area. “A high concentration of iron will encourage microalgae to bloom. “Fish and other marine life will eat the toxic microalgae, causing them to be contaminated as well. “Prolonged consumption of contaminated marine life will expedite the effects of radioactive and heavy metal poisoning in humans. “We have cases in Sabah and Kelantan, where people were poisoned after eating marine life contaminated by microalgae bloom. “Bathing in waters with a high content of microalgae will also cause itchiness,” he said, adding that the abundance of nutrients would attract jellyfish to the area. Rahim said iron and manganese sediments from bauxite would settle on top of shellfish, such as cockles, and disrupt their respiratory process. “Photos (taken by the team) showing hundreds of dead cockles at the seashore prove that the sea was heavily polluted due to mining activities. “The dark red colour is also one of the signs that the water had been contaminated with iron.”

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- Radiation levels? But already proven that arsenic levels in fish already 100 times above the safe permissible levels; but the government tries to distract by focusing on 'radiation levels'. Chemical poisoning different from radiation poisoning. Maybe, there is or there is no radiation poisoning - but certainly proven risk of arsenic and other chemical poisoning 

BUT, the Pahang government and the Federal Government seem to have done none of things that I believe a caring government would have done....On the other hand, what they seem to be doing is shifting the attention to the possibility of radiation poisoning... ignoring completely the proven fact of arsenic and other chemical poisoning...[Now, if NST lied - take action against them or openly declare that the arsenic levels in fish and vegetation in the area still is within the permissible safe for consumption levels...]

So, the Pahang Government delayed acting until an investigation and report on risk of radiation poisoning was obtained from the AELB - which was said will take 1 month (which, I believe is absurd).

Then, we had the Minister Wilfred Madius Tangau(one of the PAC members recently appointed in August to Najib's Cabinet) come out and and reportedly said 

'...It is unlikely that any radioactivity from bauxite mining here exceeded permissible levels, said Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau...It did not seem necessary, said Tangau, to call for a suspension of mining activities pending the results.' - Star, 11/8/2015 

A blessing from the Ministry and the Federal Government? Or a case of a new Minister being used to justify not doing anything about the bauxite mines - and try to make us all forget about arsenic poisoning...and other chemical poisoning. [Remember, the Deputy Health Ministered agreed with the NST finding 
The Menteri Besar, in fact also tried to put fault on the lorry drivers - the washing of lorries? He said a lot of summons had been issued - but alas, a close look at news report reveals that many of these summons were not about polluting the environment...or breaches of law regarding 'regulation about safe transport of dangerous materials', ...

“To date, the Land and Mines Office has seized 125 lorries while the police have issued 677 summonses,” he said, adding that efforts were in place to reduce the inconveniences faced by the public.Police summonses are for offences like speeding, while the Land Office went after the lorries for transporting bauxite without permits, or misusing laterite transportation licences to carry bauxite. - Star,7/8/2015.
So, why are we seeing so little response from the BN government, and almost a lack of response from the former Pakatan Rakyat parties - PAS, DAP and PKR? Has it anything to do with the fact where this bauxite mining is happening or will happen are on FELDA land - and these are local people and voters. In the case of Lynas, the owner was a foreign multi national - but here, many of the beneficiaries who will make a lot of money are voters? Many of these people may even become millionaires...or billionaires... But then, a lot of the farmers, fisherfolk, people involved/dependent in the tourism industry, and people living in the area are facing serious health risk - they are already being poisoned...arsenic, etc??

Worry also about the workers involved - are they provided with the required safety equipment and clothing? Are they working in safe working conditions? 

For me, life and health of people are more important than large profits - and given the fact that fish, seafood and probably agricultural products are already affected, I would suspend all bauxite mining operations for now...Remember also, that the victims are not just the people of Kuantan - as we all may still be consuming food products from those areas that contains arsenic above the safe permissible levels

Bauxite mining too lucrative to shut down 
By Nik Imran Abdullah 
- 10 September 2015 @ 11:01 AM 

LOOKS like the bauxite mining in Bukit Goh near Kuantan in Pahang will continue for a while more. 

Under the feet of residents, there are copious amounts of the deposits, so much so that large tracts of their oil palm estates have been cleared for mining activities. 

It is more profitable to turn their plantations into bauxite mines. Even when the state government imposed a clamp on bauxite mining, there are still plantation owners who submitted petitions to obtain a mining licence for their land. 

Although lucrative, the main snag is that the mining has caused a lot of misgiving among residents because of the pollution it causes. 

Just a few kilometres after exiting the Kuantan toll plaza, the first thing motorists will see is the red dust swirling from robust bauxite mining operations. 

Huge mounds of red earth on both sides of the road, with excavators filling a long queue of tipper lorries waiting to transport the earth, greets them. 

The road from Bukit Goh to Kuantan is permanently stained with red earth. This is the route that the lorries laden with bauxite use to send the mineral to collection points in Kuantan Port and Gebeng. 

The opposite lane from Kuantan to Bukit Goh looks cleaner in comparison as the empty lorries return to the mining sites. 

On dry days, the pollution gets worse as the red earth is blown into the air. The view in the area is tinted with a dusty red hue. 

The money earned from bauxite mining is huge — about RM750 million was generated from its production this year. Of this amount, the state government collected just RM37 million, or five per cent of the royalty it imposes on the mining operators. 

The state government is now caught between safeguarding the interests of the public and its lucrative income from bauxite mining. 

It is no easy task to balance the conflicting needs. It has to choose between preserving the environment and keeping investors happy. 

The revelation last month by this paper that there were high traces of hazardous elements, such as heavy metals in the water near the mining sites, has jolted those in power to review the position of the state government on the mining operations. 

There are only two options: the operation may be allowed to go on or it has to be shut down. Thousands of people in Bukit Goh will be thankful if the state picks the second option. 

On the other hand, those making money from bauxite mining will stand to lose millions of ringgit. 

It will be a win some, lose some situation for the state government. But, ultimately, it is a victory for residents who have had to endure the swirling red dust for months. 

Authorities have collected samples of water, earth and bauxite to be tested at the Atomic Energy Licensing Board to determine if there is a serious health hazard to humans. The findings, expected this month, will determine the state government’s decision on whether the mining operations can go on. 

Either way, any decision by the state government will show the leadership strength of Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob in dealing with a tricky situation. 

People will be closely watching whether he cares more for the ordinary man or big businesses. 

The writer is NST Pahang bureau chief

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