Article courtesy of New Straits Times Online | August 6, 2015 | New Straits Times Online | Shared as educational material
Toxic contamination of the polluted waters of Sungai Pengorak and Pantai Pengorak near Kuantan, Pahang, is evidenced by the high content of arsenic metalloid and heavy metals in fish samples from the Gebeng coastal area tested by this newspaper’s Probes Team. Only a few days earlier, however, Pahang’s Public Amenities and Environment Committee had claimed that the waters were safe, notwithstanding the reddish hue caused by bauxite sediments emanating from mining activities in the area. If the committee is to be believed, then the inference is that aquatic life there had been poisoned in only a couple of days, which is just not possible. And yet, when faced with the facts — that the 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 — the state authorities do not appear to be overly perturbed. For why else would the state government allow mining activity to go on in the face of such damning evidence?
Given the scientific evidence and expert opinions insisting on the danger of consuming seafood caught from these waters, the concern is to do with actions the state will take to protect public health. Common sense will tell any responsible authority that the right thing to do would be to suspend all mining activities pending the outcome of test results of samples of earth, water and bauxite sent to the Atomic Energy Licensing Board. For the toxicity of the sea-life here is at levels way above that which is permissible, meaning that ingestion by humans will result in serious illness. Some are carcinogens, others could affect the kidneys while still others could debilitate a person’s general health. Regular consumption at the levels found in the fish could result in diabetes and cancer. Other than arsenic, large amounts of iron, zinc, copper, nickel, plumbum and magnesium were found in the fish sample. Magnesium levels found were some three times higher than the tolerable daily intake for adults and adolescents. In extreme cases, magnesium could cause coma and even death.
To be burying one’s head in the sand, as ostriches might, to not confront the issue is not constructive. The enormity of the problem demands that the liable authorities confront it with a determination that will bring about a solution. They must put a stop to bauxite mining immediately while safety measures are put in place to make sure that the contamination is stopped and set regulations that will be properly enforced. Granted, the resulting losses could amount to millions of ringgit, but endangering public health intentionally is not only inexcusable and very costly, it is also criminal. Again, the Pahang government is slow to act, as in the severe problem of soil erosion in Cameron Highlands. The administration’s priorities seemed skewed towards maintaining the status quo. Anything that challenges it, for some reason, seems antithetical.
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