Kuantan's water sources polluted and contaminated by mercury
Kuantan’s residents are at risk of metal poisoning from bauxite mining in the state. Toxic run-off from bauxite mines and processing plants are seeping into two rivers that provide the main water supply.
The Kuantan local council recently revoked the licences of 34 mining contractors, streamlining the number to 11 certified contractors but this has not reduced the pollution impact on the state’s water resources.
Bauxite is an aluminium ore from which aluminium products are made. However, the extraction process releases large amounts of hazardous wastes such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, lead, manganese, chromium, nickel, mercury and naturally-occurring radioactive materials.
Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh has already said the Pinang and Mabok rivers which form the main raw water supply for residents, was found to be contaminated by high levels of mercury as much as 10 to 14 times greater than allowable levels.
Moreover, digging at bauxite sites causes irreparable damage to topsoil and the environment. When red sludge from the mining process is dumped on the ground, toxic chemicals seep into the underground water table when it rains, which in turn contaminates main water sources.
Rehabilitation should take place to reduce the soil runoff during the rainy season. Authorities should look into improving ground cover vegetation to control run-off and erosion.
There are many experts, researchers and consultants who can be consulted about how we can reduce the mining health risks.
There should be a Health Risk Assessment report conducted before the mining process begins although bauxite mining is not under the prescribed activity list of the Environmental Quality Act 1974.
The impact from bauxite mining in Kuantan is already being felt and emergency action is required to prevent further pollution. The intake point for water treatment plants must be carefully monitored to ensure heavy metals are not in our drinking water.
We understand that bauxite mining is a source to generate income from exports, however, it should be strictly controlled to reduce the polluting impacts.
Jesslyn Pek Yen Lee is Communication and Policy Manager for Malaysian Water Forum