Paper factory cuts short peace of neighbourhood

  • Metro News
  • Monday, 31 Aug 2020

A bird’s eye view of the factory’s location and distance in relation to the Taman Bakti housing area and a primary school.

AFTER four decades of peace and quiet, residents of Taman Bakti in Banting, Selangor are now having sleepless nights because of a factory behind their housing area.

The factory, which began operations late last year, has become a constant source of noise especially after midnight.

An acrid smell also permeates the area and is most noticeable after a downpour, raising safety and health concerns among residents.

They expressed worry too that the odour could affect the health of students at SR Agama Integrasi Sungai Manggis and Sekolah Agama Menengah Tinggi Sungai Manggis, which are both within a 150m radius of the factory.

The last straw for the residents was when they discovered that a 7.2ha expansion was being planned for the factory that currently spans 46ha.

The committee of a mosque in the vicinity then decided to collect signatures among locals to petition against the expansion plan.

This was after a town hall meeting on Aug 8 involving representatives from the factory, Kuala Langat Municipal Council (MPKL) and Banting assemblyman Lau Weng San’s office failed to reassure residents.

Masjid Ar-Rahman committee secretary Mohd Ali Hasan Ibrahim, 42, said residents demanded to be shown the factory’s licence to operate, certificate of fitness and approval from the Environment Department (DOE) within 14 days.

He said they were yet to be updated on these matters and that no proper solutions were offered for their woes.

“We were told that a 12m wall would be built to mitigate the noise, but we are not confident that it will solve the problem.

“We were also told that the freight containers that are placed near our housing area would be moved to the opposite end of the facility in six months,” he said, adding that residents were not notified prior to the factory’s construction in 2018.

Committee treasurer Suhaizan Mohd Kasim, 40, said residents were concerned about the containers that were arranged close to the power grid of an adjacent substation.

“We are perplexed as to why an industrial facility is allowed to operate so close to schools and

residential areas.

“We are not against development but it must be pollution- free,” said the father whose son attends a primary school here.

Resident Mohamad Ali Abu Bakar, 45, said his two daughters, aged five and 11, were often awakened at night by the noise from the factory.

“There is also a pungent odour coming from the factory, especially after a downpour or during windy days,” he said.

Mosque imam Ady Abdul Rahman, 54, said residents were worried that the odour would cause long-term health issues among the children and elderly.

“We do not know what chemical is causing the odour and those in school are exposed to it for long periods every day,” he pointed out.

Some are also concerned that the factory’s operation may affect the nearby Sungai Langat, which is a known habitat for ikan patin (silver catfish).

A summary of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the proposed expansion – obtained from the DOE website – revealed that the RM800mil project was to double the factory’s annual production from its current 700,000 tonnes, with an annual revenue projected at RM2.55bil.

The expansion, scheduled to start in April next year, will include a wastewater treatment plant, biomass co-generation plant and additional manufacturing plants.

The summary added that the EIA had been endorsed by the DOE on May 6.

The original EIA stated that the factory was importing 1.7 million tonnes of waste paper from the United States and Europe annually to be processed into packaging paper.

Kuala Langat Environmental Action Organisation (PTASKL) chairman Tan Ching Heng questioned why the EIA was given the nod.

“Any heavy industry should be sited at least 500m from settlements, with a minimum 30m-wide buffer zone,” he said.

A measurement done by residents found that the factory was located some 40m away from their housing area.

Selangor State Manual Guideline and Planning Standard issued in 2010 by the state Urban and Village Planning Department classified paper manufacturing as heavy industry, and the permissible noise level must not exceed 55db during the day and 45db at night in the buffer zone.

The manual added that “a minimum distance from the fence of the industry to the nearest residential area is 500m, to be finalised by the EIA report.”

PTASKL secretary Pua Lay Peng said the association had sent a letter to DOE on March 8 last year objecting to the factory’s location before it commenced operations.

“DOE should have asked the factory to engage with us to review the complaint but this did not happen,” she said.

PTASKL then sent another letter – on April 8 – but it said there was no response from DOE.

The association, said Pua, was concerned that the factory could expose those in the surrounding area to the chemical dioxin, which is emitted during the incineration process at the factory.

“Any burning, especially when done on an industrial scale, will produce dioxin.

“Extended exposure to dioxin can cause cancer, hormonal imbalances and impaired brain development in children

“Residents were not sufficiently informed of the project and the health risks involved,” said the activist who has a degree in chemical engineering.

Meanwhile, some locals claimed that occupants of the workers’ hostel located within the factory’s compound, discharge rubbish into a stream that cuts through an adjacent vegetable farm.

A farm worker, who declined to be named, said the stream used to be a habitat for fishes such as puyu (a type of perch) and haruan (snakehead fish).

“But they died because the water is polluted. Now the stream gives off a horrid odour after a downpour,” said the man who had been working at the farm for seven years.

Selangor DOE director Nor Aziah Jaafar in a statement to StarMetro said the department had adopted the “Environmental Essentials for Siting of Industries in Malaysia” (Eesim) guideline since 2018, which superseded the previous guideline, namely the “Guidelines for the Siting and Zoning of Industries and Residential Areas 2012”.

“With the adoption of Eesim, DOE no longer sets the type of industry and buffer zone.

“The buffer zone is based on the local plan issued by the local authority.

“DOE had approved the factory’s EIA after it ascertained that all environmental impacts and their controls had been researched, including the equipment to minimise those impacts,” she explained.

The director said the EIA was issued under the Environmental Quality (Prescribed Activities) (Environmental Impact Assessment) Order 2015.

She said DOE did not have a guideline for odour pollution from paper recycling factories.

“However, the factory has been instructed to conduct air quality monitoring at sensitive areas every month,” she added.

PTASKL was adamant that a minimum distance between industrial facilities and residential settlements should remain.

“The Eesim guideline should enhance the previous guideline.

“A sufficient distance is needed to keep the public safe from pollution.

“In fact, many environmental experts had said that the 500m minimum distance was insufficient and should be revised to at least one kilometre,” said Pua.

The authorities carried out a joint operation on Aug 28, led by MPKL president Datuk Amirul Azizan Abd Rahim.

In a statement, the council said the workers hostel had been built illegally and was the cause of the stream’s contamination

Two notices were issued under the Road, Drainage and Building 1974 Act and Trade, Business and Industry MDKL 2007 by-law, it said.

The statement reiterated that legal action would be taken against parties that built any structure without written permission from MPKL

Also joining the operation were personnel from police, Immigration Department, DOE, Kuala Langat Land and District Office, Tenaga Nasional Bhd and Air Selangor.

StarMetro reached out to the factory’s management for comments but did not get a response at press time.

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