Green cover for toxic menace

VISITORS to Telok Panglima Garang in Selangor’s Kuala Langat district are usually enthralled by the vast expanse of greenery that makes up the landscape.

However, this may soon change as illegal facilities processing electronic waste or ewaste have set up operations there.

Their activities threaten to pollute the environment and impact agricultural activities in the area.

An environmental organisation Persatuan Tindakan Alam Sekitar Kuala Langat (PTASKL) said there were at least three such facilities operating in the Telok Mengkuang area, with possibly several more yet to be discovered.

Its secretary Pua Lay Peng raised concerns that these operations could release harmful chemicals into the food chain due to their proximity to farms.

“The by-products of electronic waste processing are hazardous and could interfere with our hormones and cause cancer.

“There is also a high chance of contamination as all three sites are located near a Sungai Langat tributary,” she said.

Chicken, winter melon and mushroom farming were among agricultural activities being carried out next to oil palm plantations, she noted.

Ewaste is defined as any discarded product with a battery or plug, which contains toxic substances.

A check by StarMetro at the facilities found no signboards but the factories were equipped with closed-circuit television cameras.

An aerial survey showed broken items such as refrigerators, air-conditioning units and other home appliances collected at these sites.

At one of the sites, electronic components such as circuit boards and disused wires were found dumped outside the facility.

Several huge lorries could be seen entering and exiting the sites, presumably carrying ewaste, with tight security at the gates.

All three facilities were located within a 3km radius of each other.

Agricultural land misused

A local activist, who declined to be named due to safety concerns, questioned the locations of the waste-processing facilities.

“This area has been gazetted for agricultural use, so how could such activities be allowed to operate here?

“A proper procedure to convert the land status must be done first before such activities were allowed,” he said, adding that this process often involved paying a high premium.

He also raised suspicions that some of the ewaste brought to these facilities could be imported from overseas.

“The lush greenery in this area provides these operators with a perfect cover to hide their activities.

“Authorities must investigate to ascertain the origin of the discarded products,” he added.

A check by PTASKL at the Kuala Langat Land and District Office found that two of the three facilities were operating on agricultural land.

The details of the third site had yet to be obtained by the association.

According to the Kuala Langat Local Plan 2030, which is the official town planning document, the processing of toxic waste is considered heavy industry.

This means that the facilities can only operate on land plots that are gazetted for such activities.

It is mandatory to secure approval for the environmental impact assessment from the Department of Environment (DOE).

Pua said a report was lodged with the department and Kuala Langat Municipal Council (MPKL), urging them to investigate.

She stressed that there should be a clear separation between agricultural and industrial areas to avoid the potential for disasters.

Following a tip-off, DOE raided the three facilities, which were ordered to cease operations.

They were also fined a total of RM500,000.

Selangor DOE director Nor Aziah Jaafar said the operators began renting the respective land plots a few months ago.

“They initially started as a warehouse but then turned into an illegal facility to process electronic waste.

“We suspect that they do not have a licence from the local council as the status of the land is agricultural.

“We thank StarMetro and PTASKL for bringing this matter to our attention,” she said, adding that the waste could have been imported.

At press time, MPKL has yet to respond to requests for comments.

Pua called for a heavy penalty to be imposed on the operators to deter more such facilities from setting up bases here.

“The authorities must be sterner and not take a lackadaisical attitude towards such blatant disregard for the law,” she added.

Profitable enterprise

Waste management specialist Dr Theng Lee Chong said ewaste often contained valuable metals, making its processing a lucrative business.

“For example, the circuit boards found in electrical appliances usually contain a small amount of silver, gold or platinum.

“These metals can be extracted via chemical treatments that will produce toxic substances that need to be disposed of properly.

“This process is costly and illegal operators tend to take the easy way out by simply discarding the by-products,” he said.

Theng added that the by-products generated by ewaste processing were non-degradable and would accumulate in the environment.

He said there was a possibility that such activities could affect the ground and surface water, in turn, poisoning the surrounding land.

“A proper study must be conducted to ascertain the extent to which the ewaste has contaminated the area.

“The site should then be extensively cleaned up before any other activity can be allowed there,” he stressed.

Though the facilities have been ordered to close, a source told StarMetro that the operators were reportedly struggling to move the accumulated ewaste to comply with the DOE order.

Separately, ewaste is not the only material found in the Telok Mengkuang area, as another site is used as an illegal dumping ground for domestic waste.

Located by a roadside, the stinking piles of rubbish are found a few steps away from the river, a tributary of Sungai Langat.

It is unclear if the rubbish comes from nearby industrial activities or has been dumped by local residents.

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