Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Rare Earth Mining in Malaysia - the threat remains as government fails to care for health, environment and livelihood of people???

Bukit Merah...Lynas - and yet the Perak government seems to be wanting to open yet another 'dangerous' rare earth mine in Perak - and probably another rare earth processing plant like Lynas. 

Stupid and shocking - Have the government not yet learned the lesson about the dangers to environment and health...What is interesting was that these plans should have been noticed by the past Pakatan Harapan plus government ... and the plans should have been shelved in the interest of health, livelihood and the environment...

Whilst attention was focused on Lynas - about the relocation of the plant from Malaysia, the demand that Australia take back the 'waste'(which Australia to date has refused), and the proper and safe storage of the apparently dangerous waste - Malaysia again is going to mine rare earth..Time to vote out the current government if we want to stop it...

Now, if the project is awarded to some foreign company - which is subject to some Trade Agreement which protects the 'investor' - Malaysia will fall again into the 'trap' of not being able to cancel the project - without having to pay a very high settlement in millions/billions of Malaysia ringgit.... What stage is the plans at? Is it still in the hands of the Malaysian government or Malaysian companies - or has it already been given to some FOREIGN company?

In the '... Ethyl Corporation v. Government of Canada, which saw the Canadian government banning a gasoline additive on environmental and public health grounds, but subsequently reversing that ban following the company's arbitration claim under NAFTA against Canada for expropriation. Before the matter was decided by the tribunal (after the tribunal decided that it had jurisdiction over the claim), Canada settled and agreed to remove the ban, declare publicly that the gasoline additive was not an environmental or a health risk, and pay $19 million in compensation to the US firm...' - THIRD WORLD RESURGENCE, Privileging investors over the public interest by Fauwaz Abdul Aziz(Third World Resurgence No. 275, July 2013, pp 18-22)

If Malaysia or Perak already signed some agreement with some FOREIGN company to mine or process rare earth, then the difficulty of even stopping the mining increases...  again public health and environment may be sacrificed by reason of folly of some politician/government leaders...

See earlier posts:- 

For raising minimum wages, Egypt sued by Veolia, a French multinational? 

TPPA - Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) Clauses - No more improvement in Malaysian life?

TPPA - ISDS Clauses - States never win,Only investors win awards ofdamages?

TPPA - Do not let the foreign investor affect the improvement of livelihood, better health/environmental policies and better worker rights

The PERAK Menteri Besar is not denying the mining - only saying not yet started mining ...he is missing the point completely. And, sadly it is the people of PERAK that voted in these State Assemblypersons as their State Chief Minister and Cabinet - so they will suffer most by reason this bad choice..

Read more the impact and long-term impacts of rare earth mining to the people and the environment - and even the risk to everyone's water supply. Many countries are stopping rare earth mining and processing - read more and make an informed decision yourself..

It is now Perak - earlier in 2020, it was Kedah that have been planning on RARE EARTH MINING - yes, there is a lot of monies to be made BUT the question must be what is our PRIORITY > For me, the RISKS are too high and it can last for 100 years after the end of mining operations, and it risks people's health, environment, wildlife - and it can affect a lot of people far away from mining/processing site the article below as well about the 'Toxic Risks of Mining Rare Earth'

Satellite images show Perak rare earth mine built before approval

Question marks have emerged over why work appeared to have commenced at a site in Hulu Perak near Gerik over a year before the rare earth mining project was approved.

Menteri Besar Saarani Mohamad on May 23 said the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the project was approved a week prior.

However, satellite images reviewed by Malaysiakini reveal what an environmentalist suspects are evidence of ongoing mining operations at the site.

The site has been earmarked for the mining of lanthanides, which are 15 chemical elements, commonly known as rare earth, and are used to make electronics."It is questionable how the mining operations could start before the EIA report was approved.

"Checks on Google Maps (above) show there are already land works done and pregnant solution collection pond structures at the proposed project site," said Sahabat Alam Malaysia field officer Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman.

Pregnant solution ponds are used to store chemical solutions in the mining process.

Malaysiakini’s further checks of other publicly available satellite imagery found signs of land clearing on the site as early as December 2019.

About a year later in December 2020, apparent structures started showing up in satellite imagery of the site.

Timelapse of satellite imagery of the site from September 2020 to May 2022. Each individual image is a “cloudless mosaic” assembled from multiple images taken throughout a calendar month to artificially reduce cloud cover in the image.

The images were cross-referenced with coordinates for the project provided in the EIA report displayed by the Department of Environment (DOE).

The project is located in an ecological corridor connecting the Kenderong Forest Reserve and Bintang Hijau Forest Reserve which is home to endangered wildlife including the Malayan tiger.

The EIA report was put on public display in July 2021 before receiving the DOE’s approval on May 11 this year.

Besides the Malayan tiger, the EIA states that the area is also home to the Asian elephant and Malayan tapir.

The project sits 500m north of salt licks which are visited by elephants, tapirs, and sun bears.

It was also noted that active logging has been happening in the area.

Permanent loss of habitat

Environmentalists oppose the project because it is located on the Central Forest Spine which runs down the length of Peninsular Malaysia.

The Central Forest Spine is a network of ecological corridors that allow wildlife to move from one forest complex to another. This helps especially with the conservation of threatened and near-extinct species.

The project area is also in an Environmentally Sensitive Area Level 1 which, according to the National Physical Plan, are areas that cannot be used for anything but low-impact tourism, education, and research.

It is estimated there are fewer than 150 Malayan tigers, 3,100 wild elephants, 1,500 tapirs, and 500 sun bears in the wild in Malaysia.

"The EIA clearly states that land works can cause direct and indirect impact on wildlife, especially large mammals and aquatic life, and can potentially cause species extinction.

"The EIA does not provide any mitigation measures to overcome this loss of wildlife habitat, so this means the destruction of wildlife habitat is permanent," Meor Razak said.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia field officer Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman

He added that the mining period of 12 years, plus a 30-year mining licence, is likely to cause irreversible damage and obliterate wildlife habitats.

The Perak government has said the mining will be a pilot project to determine if lanthanides could be a new source of income for the state.

According to the EIA, the mining will be conducted through in-situ leaching by constructing seven hydrometallurgical plants as well as establishing injection holes and piping systems.

The project covers 11 land parcels of 5,339 acres (2,161 ha) and is owned by Menteri Besar Incorporated Perak (MB Inc Perak), Majlis Daerah Gerik, Felcra Bhd, and the Perak State Agriculture Development Corporation (SADC).

This is equivalent to about 3,026 football fields. - Malaysiakini, 11/6/2022

Perak lanthanide mine not in forest reserve, central spine area, insists Saarani

Perak Menteri Besar Saarani Mohamad says civil society groups should check with the state's Forestry Department and Land and Mines Office before making claims that a new lanthanide mine is located in forest reserves and the central spine area. – Wikipedia pic, June 15, 2022.

THE pilot project for lanthanide rare earth mining in Hulu Perak is not in the permanent forest reserve (PFR) and is outside the central forest spine (CFS) area, said Menteri Besar Saarani Mohamad. 

He said the site involves land owned by the state’s Agricultural Development Corporation. 

“So, any party, especially the non-governmental organisations that claim the area involved is under PFR, I suggest that they check with the state Forestry Department and the Land and Mines Office. 

“I have personally checked with the departments concerned and it has been proven that the area is not under the PFR or CFS,” he told a press conference after launching the 2030 Perak Sejahtera Plan in Ipoh today. 

Yesterday, Sahabat Alam Malaysia urged the Perak government to review the implementation of the lanthanide rare earth mining project in Hulu Perak, claiming that the project is located in the ecological corridor that connects the Kenderong Forest Reserve and the Bintang Hijau Forest Reserve, which is a wildlife habitat. – Bernama, June 15, 2022..Malaysian Insight

The toxic risks of mining rare earths

The Malaysian experience and its toxic legacy is a sobering reminder and Kedah should learn from it.

We refer to the announcement by the Kedah menteri besar (MB) last week that the state intends to mine for a rare earth element (REE) which could be worth RM62 billion.

REEs are extracted from ores and minerals as they are not often found concentrated in mineable deposits. REEs are almost always found in conjunction with significant radioactivity as these ores and minerals naturally contain uranium and thorium.

There are 17 rare earth elements existing namely scandium, yttrium, lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium and lutetium. Can the MB let us know which type of non-radioactive rare earth is found in Kedah?

Rare earth mining and processing is a much more environmentally hazardous process than other mining activities since radioactive waste is formed. It has serious environmental impacts if not properly managed. Low-level radioactive tailings from the presence of thorium and uranium in REEs ores are a potential hazard and improper handling of these substances can result in enormous environmental and health damage. Both thorium and uranium remain radioactive for hundreds of years and exposure to them has been linked to increased risks of lung, pancreatic and other cancers.

The mining of REEs has caused the contamination of soil and water: radioactive waste can leach out into aquatic environments and be absorbed by aquatic vegetation which can then bioaccumulate and potentially enter the human food chain if livestock or humans choose to eat the vegetation.

Exposure to radioactive waste can lead to cancer, respiratory issues, dental loss and even death. The group most at risk are children as radioactive waste can impact the neurological development of children, affecting their IQ and potentially causing memory loss.

Nowhere is the industry’s ecological and human fallout more stark than in China which accounts for more than 80% of the world’s REEs output. In Jiangzxi province, rare earth mining has led to extensive water and soil pollution while concrete leaching ponds and plastic lined waste water pools dot the hills.

As clean up of these polluted sites begins, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology estimated the cleanup bill could amount to 38 billion yuan (US$5 billion). According to Chinese authorities it will take 50 to 100 years before the environment can fully recover, and the cost borne by the locals has been high.

In Jiangxi province, two methods were used to extract the rare earths. The first method involved removing layers of topsoil and transporting them to a leaching pond, where acids and chemicals were used to separate the various REEs from clay, soil and rock.

The second process involved drilling holes (which the MB of Kedah vaguely alluded to) into hills inserting PVC pipes and rubber hoses, and then flushing out the earth using a mix of water and chemicals. This mix was then directly pumped or transported to the leaching pond for further separation of REEs.

Chinese officials have said that mining has dumped excessive amounts of ammonia and nitrogen compounds into the region’s groundwater. Other pollutants like cadmium and lead are released during the mining process and long term exposure to these metals pose health risks as well.

Rare earth mining has led to radioactive material clinging to the elements in some areas according to a researcher who studied the environmental and health impacts. The end result he says could be central nervous system cancers like bone cancer, skin cancer and cardiovascular and respiratory disorders.

Nearer home at the rare earth refinery at Bukit Merah in Perak, CAP documented birth defects and leukemia cases within five years in the community. Doctors say thorium contamination from the plant had led to the increase in cancer. The company, Asian Rare Earth, had also sold calcium phosphate, a by-product of rare earth processing as fertiliser which according to a former Bukit Merah resident the cows that ate the grass (grown with fertiliser) all died.

The factory operated by Mitsubishi Chemical closed in 1992 amid strong opposition from local residents, environmentalists and Japanese politicians. The company was involved in a US$100 million clean-up which entailed the removal of more than 80,000 steel barrels of radioactive wastes to a hilltop repository. The US Environment Protection Agency lists Bukit Merah one of Asia’s largest radioactive waste cleanup sites.

It looks like history is about to repeat itself with the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) rare earth refinery, which is set to become the world’s largest processing facility of rare earths. Lynas’s operations, a complex project involving radiation hazards was fast tracked for approval without a permanent disposal facility in place. Since it started in 2012, it has accumulated waste, namely the water leached purification (WLP) residue which is radioactive totalling 451,564 metric tonnes, and neutralisation underflow (NUF) waste which has been classified as scheduled waste, amounting to 1.2 million metric tonnes as of February 2018. Currently, the massive mounds of waste are openly accumulating within Lynas’ factory site. The NUF storage capacity reached its limit in June 2018 and a secure landfill is nowhere in sight. To date the public has no knowledge of the planned permanent disposal facility.

In 2018 the executive committee report (ECR) on Lynas noted that “the main cause of sediment pollution in Sg Balok was from the LAMP operations”. Citing the radiological impact assessment report (2016), it states “there is a statistically significant increase in U 238 radioactivity from the stream sediments at the location of LAMP effluent dumps as compared to the downstream location”.

This means that radioactive materials such as uranium-238 are able to settle from water and accumulate in sediments at the bottom of the river. Bottom feeders are able to collect these radioactive materials from river water and sediment. The ECR also found “non compliance with some heavy metals (nickel lead, chromium and mercury) in ground water particularly alarming”.

In light of the above health and environmental hazards and problems associated with rare earth mining, namely radioactive waste, heavy metals contamination, waste disposal and storage, and lifetimes, the MB must realise that these issues and problems will have to be borne by the state and the people of Kedah. It will bring about irreversible damage to the environment, destruction of forests, devastation of watersheds, scarred desert-like landscapes, poisoned soil and water, and a public health crisis. The financial, social and ecological costs will be astronomical. The Malaysian experience and its toxic legacy is a sobering reminder and Kedah should learn from it.

Does the Kedah Department of Environment have the capacity to monitor and evaluate REEs mining and processing, supervise the decommissioning and approval of suitable land for the permanent disposal facility and disposal of toxic waste, among others?

Given the dangers highlighted above, CAP urges the state and federal governments to declare a moratorium on any mining, production and refining of REEs, their waste disposal and storage.

Mohideen Abdul Kader is president of the Consumers’ Association of Penang. - Malaysia Now, 8/12/2020


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