SOME months ago, Sungai Tukang Batu in Pasir Gudang, Johor was reported to be one of the dirtiest rivers in the country.
After the matter was highlighted in The Star, the state Environment Department (DOE) said the authorities had joined forces to clean up the river.
Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Hasni Mohammad had also vowed to clean up the rivers in the Pasir Gudang area, especially Sungai Kim Kim, to make sure that the pollution incident that occurred on March 7,2019 would not repeat.
I decided to go take a look at these two rivers since my house is located about 6km away from where the chemical dumping into Sungai Kim Kim occurred and 12km away from Sungai Tukang Batu.
I was not surprised to find that both of the rivers are still polluted, although Sungai Kim Kim’s appearance has improved quite a bit in terms of the water colour, which is no longer black.
However, the chemical smell was still there.
The state government and relevant departments should look deeper into the issues.
The people here claimed that nearby industries still continued to dump their waste into the river, which should be investigated.
In my personal view, Sungai Tukang Batu is “unique, ” as the source of pollution at this river starts from the drains in the industrial area.
An observer can clearly see a drain beside a factory channelling wastewater directly into the river.This is literally a river of chemicals. The same unbearable chemical stench is still there, just like when I first came here in July last year.
The Orang Asli I met at Kampung Pasir Putih near Sungai Tukang Batu, said this used to be their hunting ground for all sorts of seafood many years ago.
But now, their lives depend entirely on mussels scraped from the bottom of large vessels that dock at the nearby port.
Fishermen in Kampung Pasir Gudang Baru, who live near Sungai Masai, also face the same pollution issues, where they say the river turns black.
When I brought up the matter to DOE, I was asked to follow up with the local councils, but when I went to the respective local councils, I was told the matter was in the hands of DOE.
Is this the reason why the rivers in Johor remain polluted and have been in a dismal condition for years?
Are the authorities waiting for another incident to happen before taking action?
In my view, local councils should beef up in terms of power and authority followed by strict, precise enforcement under the law.
The state should also come out with a clear blueprint that coordinates cooperation between the
government agencies including local councils, and make it extra clear to the support staff.
The government has allocated RM30mil to DOE and the Chemistry Department, for them to work together.
They should use this to conduct regular spot checks on industries, especially their waste and make sure they declare their “Red List” (a list of chemicals produced or used by the company).
Any company that is found polluting the environment should be immediately shut down, regardless of how many people it employs.
At the end of the day, it is the lives of the greater population that matter, not the money generated by destroying the environment.
Currently, there are about 500,000 people living in Pasir Gudang, including me, with more than 2,000 factories including 257 chemical factories in operation.
Johor has 78 rivers, where only 14 rivers are clean, 27 are polluted and the rest slightly polluted.
I really hope that we can do something concrete to keep our rivers clean.