BUKIT MERTAJAM: A wooden palette processing factory within the illegal dumpsite in Machang Bubok here is believed to have begun operations before it obtained a licence from the Seberang Prai Municipal Council (MPSP).
A worker at the factory, who declined to be named, said the factory started operating since two years ago, processing 95% recycled palettes and only 5% of it was new.
"We strip the wood from used palettes, then clean it to build new palettes.
"Each palette can be sold for RM40," the man said in an interview Thursday (March 21).
A check by The Star showed the factory was still in operation, with workers using tools to assemble the palettes and machines running in the background despite the factory being slapped with a notice from MPSP to cease operations.
Workers in the factory claimed their management had applied for a licence, but checks revealed that their application has yet to be approved.
"The owner of the factory submitted its application for the licence on Feb 27.
"It is not approved yet and so, they should not operate until they are licensed to do so," said MPSP Licensing Department director Mohd Faidrol Radzi, who visited the factory following claims made by the workers on Thursday (March 21).
State Environment Department (DoE) deputy director Abdul Aziz Parmin said officers spotted the dumpsite in January when they came to investigate several barrels of chemicals illegally dumped within the oil palm estate some 100m away, but the department could not initiate legal action because the waste at the dumpsite did not fall under the scheduled waste category.
"We conducted an investigation in January but because the waste is not categorised as scheduled waste, it wasn't under our authority to deal with it," he said during the visit with his officers.
Asked if MPSP was informed about it, Abdul Aziz said any complaint out of DoE's jurisdiction would be forwarded to the relevant agencies to be dealt with as a standard procedure.
On the barrels of chemicals found, Abdul Aziz said the chemistry report is expected to be ready by Friday (March 22).
"If the chemicals are hazardous, action can be taken against the landowner under Section 34B of the Environmental Quality Act 1974 , which carries a maximum RM500,000 fine and up to five years’ jail upon conviction," added Abdul Aziz.
Since the 6.5ha dumpsite was exposed in the media, there is now round-the-clock security in the area, and enforcement officers from MPSP have so far impounded a truck loaded with waste after it was caught making its way into the dumpsite.
A tipper truck laden with food waste at the site, however, remains abandoned and the authorities believed it suffered a breakdown.
Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim Chee Keong and Machang Bubok assemblyman Lee Khai Loon also visited the dumpsite and warned the offenders to clean up their act.
"What they have done is irresponsible. The pollution caused by their illegal dumping will eventually lead to negative effects on the residents nearby.
"We will not compromise and I warn them to clean up their act or face further action," said Sim.
Meanwhile, Sahabat Alam Malaysia in a statement has voiced dismay over the discovery of an illegal dumpsite of such scale in Penang.
Its president S.M. Mohamed Idris said if the authorities had been vigilant, there would not have been such trouble to clean it up now.
"If the authorities had taken action earlier, it wouldn't be of such scale now.
"Some of the waste were imported from countries like China. Are we now a dumping ground for them?
"Authorities need to investigate thoroughly and find out the source of the waste," he said.
Mohamed Idris also raised concern on environmental effects to the area
after the site gets cleaned up.
"Now is the dry season. But soon when the rain comes, the leachate from the dumpsite could seep further into the soil and flow to underground water bodies.
"It will jeopardise the health and safety of the people in the area," he said.
On Wednesday (March 20), The Star reported the discovery of the 6.5ha dumpsite where plastic waste, discarded furniture and construction debris filled up the marshland which was previously an illegal sand quarry.
Mounds of shredded plastic, almost two-storey high, were spotted not far away, while excavators and forklifts were at work unloading more of such waste from trucks.