GEORGE TOWN: The controversy over the illegal factory in Sungai Lembu continues with fresh worries following leaked government letters and reports alleging the death of a lorry driver who fell into one of the pits of burning sawdust.
Several politicians and NGOs are demanding answers from the state about claims that have gone viral.
A blog known as www.thethirdforce.net revealed a report showing that the Department of Environment (DoE) would only support the factory’s operation if the sawdust was burned to make carbon in a closed environment.
This was after a move by the state on Wednesday to declassify meeting minutes that showed a district Health Office reporting a lack of evidence that the factory created cancer risks for the local community.
The meeting minutes of the Central Seberang Prai District Office on Sept 28, 2015, revealed that majority of 11 villagers suffering from breast, lung, gastrointestinal, liver and nasopharynx cancers were over 50 years old and because their ages led to increased cancer risks, the Health Office could not conclusively state that the factory caused these cancers.
But the DoE report revealed by thethirdforce.net, dated April 24, 2015, mentioned that the department was against the factory’s lacked of facilities to control the release of smoke from its burning pits.
The blog also revealed two Seberang Prai Municipal Council (MPSP) notices to the factory advising the owner to cease operations.
Penang MCA Youth chief Datuk Michael Lee urged Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and state Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh to clarify the revelations.
“If the state government was willing to reveal meeting minutes, then clarify these other documents.
“Otherwise, people will think something fishy has been going on,” he said in a statement.
Penang Front Party chairman Datuk Patrick Ooi said what the blog revealed created more questions despite the declassified meeting minutes. Penangites will not settle for half-truths”.
Penanti assemblyman Dr Norlela Ariffin revealed in a Facebook posting on Wednesday that there was yet another letter from DoE advising MPSP to close down the illegal carbon production factory.
“That letter exists as I received notification from MPSP that it would demolish the factory after receiving it from DoE,” said Dr Norlela.
Penang Gerakan vice-chairman Oh Tong Keong empathised with Dr Norlela and urged Permatang Pauh MP Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail to state her stand because the factory was in her constituency.
“We are sad that Dr Norlela is fighting a lonely battle. We don’t see Dr Wan Azizah and other PKR leaders speaking out.”
NGO Penang Citizens Awareness Chant Group also wants the factory closed down on account of the smoke pollution.
Penang Gerakan land and anti-corruption committee spokesman H’ng Khoon Leng said publicly shared pictures of thick smoke billowing out of the factory showed it obviously lacked air pollutant filtering.
“It’s no different from open burning.
“Firemen recently took days to douse the burning sawdust after authorities moved to shut it down and everyone was shocked by how much smoke the pits made,” he said.
Also disconcerting were reports on the death of a lorry driver who fell into a burning pit while delivering sawdust on May 6, 2015.
The driver suffered 93% burns and was said to have succumbed to his injuries the same day.
The tragedy had led many to fear that the factory was an occupational safety risk on to of being a potential public health hazard.
Meanwhile, Lim and Phee denied any knowledge of the DoE letter described by Dr Norlela.
Phee urged her to reveal the letter if she had a copy.
“She should reveal all the letters from DoE and MPSP addressed to her.”
On Dr Norlela’s statement on Facebook that Phee gave a three-year extension to the factory, Phee said it was MPSP’s policy.
“We did not ask for it. Since the matter is under investigation, I would not like to comment further,” he said.
On Aug 11, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission nabbed Phee, factory director Edmund Gan Eu Lee, 37, and his father Gan Buck Hee, 70, who was the factory manager.
They were released from remand last Monday.
Phee is being investigated under Section 23 of the MACC Act 2009 for allegedly writing two letters to the council, urging it not to take action against the illegal factory.