KUALA LUMPUR: The National Water Services Commission (SPAN) has ordered the immediate shutdown of the Ayer Ganda, Gerik water treatment plant, after traces of arsenic poison was discovered.
SPAN chairman Charles Santiago said the body was first informed of the arsenic exposure on Jan 9 through a letter from the Health Ministry.
He said pursuant to the letter, SPAN responded by suggesting the Perak Water Board (LAP) close down the water treatment plant, but this was not done as they were “exploring other options”.
He added that SPAN received a second letter from the Health Ministry alerting the commission to the fact that there were still traces of arsenic in the water plant, so SPAN had to act immediately.
“Our priority is to provide clean water. This is why we have to take this harsh step,” he told reporters at the Parliament lobby on Thursday (April 11).
Last Thursday (April 4), low levels of arsenic were found in water samples taken from Sungai Rui in Hulu Perak.
The Perak government has set up a special taskforce to handle pollution in the river.
Santiago said SPAN would not compromise on this matter and would not entertain any more appeals from LAP.
“Arsenic poisoning is serious. The exposure to pregnant women and children is quite serious,” he said.
He also noted that SPAN had requested the Health Ministry to send a special team to investigate the extent of the problem and see if the exposure is a health threat to residents.
“The thing about arsenic poisoning is you will not find out about it today or tomorrow.
“You will find out three to four years from now. It is cancerous.
“So it is irresponsible for any water operators, if they know of any carcinogenic exposure in the water, to carry on,” he said.
Asked what had led to this situation, Santiago said studies had been conducted by several government agencies and they found an old mine near the area.
“Because the mine was not taken care of properly, it had naturally produced arsenic,” he said.
He added that SPAN was also looking at the details of the incident, and would take stern action against any parties if there was any breach of the law or any negligence.
He said the Ayer Ganda water treatment plant has a capacity of 0.68million litres per day and provides water to 312 users in Kampung Ayer Ganda.
“SPAN also suggested that LAP provide additional water to those in the affected area via lorries or static tanks at strategic locations,” he added.