Residents fear the worst with plastic burning


Big business: One of the illegal plastic recycling factories and waste dumping site in Jenjarom. Photo courtesy of Persatuan Tindakan Alam Sekitar Kuala Langat.

KUALA LANGAT: For years, the stretch of road leading from Kuala Langat to Klang would be covered in smog almost every night due to peat soil fires and open burning by vegetable farmers.

But the smell of charred peat soil turned rancid last year.

Despite suffering eye, throat and breathing discomfort, the residents nearby did not think that something was amiss.

“We thought the farmers in Indonesia had increased their open burning activity; and that coupled with the open burning by our own farmers, it led to a new unfamiliar smell,” said Jenjarom New Village resident Pua Lay Ping, 45.

Another resident Daniel Tay, 65, said they eventually got used to the smell but visitors could sense that something was not right.

“Outsiders who come to the village would remark that there was something nasty in the air. It gave them a lot of discomfort,” he added.

Unknown to the locals, the smog came from the dumpsites that were handling scraps imported from countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

The garbage, mostly plastic, was being burnt and melted by these “processing plants”.

“We never knew this until a businessman from a neighbouring country leased a piece of land which was nearer to the main road and started the ‘import and recycling’ business,” Pua claimed.

Pua said she visited the place and was overwhelmed by the smell emanating from the facility.

The villagers did their own checks and found about 40 such dumpsites.

“We wrote to the state Department of Environment (DOE) and were told that most of these establishments were probably illegal as the department would not have allowed them to operate,” said Pua.

“We decided to organise ourselves; we registered the Kuala Langat Environmental Action Association in July and pursued the matter right up to the Mentri Besar’s office.”

She said Mentri Besar Amirudin Shari received their letter dated Aug 29 and directed the Kuala Langat District Council (MDKL) to attend to the matter immediately.

She said MDKL had since shut down most of the illegal plants which apparently were usually managed by foreigners.

Consumer Association of Penang (CAP) research officer S. Mageswary said Pua’s association contacted them in July.

“We visited them about two days later and went to several of the illegal plants,” she said.

“If they are burning plastics with chlorine content, there will be dioxin and furans. These are carcinogenic and can cause cancer.

“And then there are also the ultra fine particles which can lodge into the lungs and cause breathing difficulties,” said Mageswary.

She noted that there was also the issue of ground and surface water getting polluted.

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