BY TEOH TEIK HOONG AND DEVID RAJAH
PEKAN: Tasik Chini, the country’s second-largest freshwater lake, is contaminated with high levels of e-coli, the bacteria that may have caused rashes and diarrhoea among the orang asli living near it.
This has prompted the state government to warn the 400 villagers, including 100 children aged six and under, not to drink water from the lake and wells.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) researchers in their recent expedition to the lake found high levels of e-coli, salmonella and other bacteria, collectively known as coliform, in the 202ha lake and ground water.
There are five settlements – Kampung Gumum, Tanjung Puput, Chendahan, Melai and Ulu Gumum – on the shores of the lake, which is famous for legends of lost kingdoms and dragons.
Only certain households in Kampung Gumum, the Tasik Chini Resort and a nearby national service camp are supplied with piped water.
NIK NAIZI HUSIN reports that the Orang Asli Affairs Department has visited the villages to explain the health risk and advise the villagers to boil the water before drinking it.
“We are aware that the lake and ground water are contaminated,” state Health, Welfare and Orang Asli Affairs Committee chairman Datuk Ishak Muhammad said.
He added that the state government was waiting for a comprehensive report from UKM before deciding on a solution to the problem.
Ali Sidin, 45, of Kampung Gumum, claimed he had been taking his children to the Felda Chini clinic every two or three weeks for diarrhoea, vomiting and fever.
He said UKM officials had told the villagers recently that the ground water they used for drinking, bathing and washing had kuman (bacteria).
Ali’s son Sangit, 24, said his seven-month-old daughter, Dian, developed rashes on her buttocks after they used the well water to clean her.
“Even adults would scratch their bodies after going into the lake,” he said, adding that it would be difficult to stop children from playing in the lake or bathing there.
UKM’s Science and Technology Faculty Associate Prof Dr Ainon Hamzah said her team found high counts of e-coli in the lake and well water in two nearby orang asli villages.
She cautioned that drinking e-coli-contaminated water could be fatal, especially to infants or elderly persons.
Prof Ainon said those infected would display symptoms such as severe bloody diarrhoea and abdominal cramps.
In children under five years of age, she said, the infection could cause complications, called haemolytic uremic syndrome, which destroyed red blood cells and caused kidneys to fail.
Prof Ainon said the water contamination was traced to improper sewage disposal by a local resort and the Tasik Chini national service camp at the lakeside.
The resort, she said, could accommodate 80 guests daily while the camp could accommodate 800 people at any one time.
There are pipelines, believed to be for draining wastewater, leading from the camp to the lake. The camp was set up last year.
Prof Ainon, who conducted tests on the water quality, said the e-coli counts in wells at Kampung Chen-dahan and Tanjung Puput were 20,000 and 2,000 per hundred millimetre (phm) respectively.
“The e-coli count in drinking water should be zero,” said Prof Ainon, who conducted the scientific expedition with 120 faculty members recently.
She said the e-coli level at the dam area in Sungai Chini, which leads out to Sungai Pahang, was 25 times above the permissible level.
Tasik Chini resort operator Zahrin Abdul Rashid, however, refuted allegations that waste from the resort and the national service camp were disposed into the lake.
“There are septic tanks at both the locations.
“In fact, 20 septic tanks were built at the NS campsite,” said Zahrin, who manages both the NS campsite and the resort.
He hoped UKM would release its findings to the state government so that the resort could investigate the claims and rectify the problems.
Coliform found at different locations within the lake, with the highest amount being detected in the middle of the stagnant body of water, is 56 times above the permissible level of 5,000phm, a standard set by the Department of Environment.
Drainage and Irrigation Depart-ment director-general Datuk Keizrul Abdullah said the department was open to suggestions to open up the dam in Sungai Chini to flush out the contaminants.
“The objective of the dam is to facilitate activities in the lake, but if it causes problems, we will relook its functions.
“If the solution is to release the water from the lake, we won’t be dogmatic and say no,” he said.
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