Root of the problem still unknown


GEORGE TOWN: Metal poisoning along the coastal areas of Teluk Bahang looks to be worsening while the root cause remains unknown.Operators of fish farms along the coast are worried for the survival of marine resources such as sea algae and other plant life, should the content of heavy metal spike further.

Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies (Cemacs) director Prof Datuk Dr Aileen Tan said that two weeks ago, the heavy metal nickel was found to be 944% higher than natural off Penang National Park in Teluk Bahang.

“Now, the level of nickel detected is 1,038% more than natural in the seas near the National Park and 982% at the fish farms in Teluk Bahang.

“It is imperative that the source of the pollution is found immediately as it affects the livelihood of fishermen and is a threat to marine life in the area,” she said in an interview yesterday.

Two weeks ago, The Star quoted Prof Tan as saying that Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Chemistry Department found nickel in the waters off Teluk Bahang at 0.472 parts per million (ppm), 944% more than the standard 0.005ppm in typical sea water.

She said lead was found at 184% above normal or 0.804ppm, when it should be only 0.005ppm, while cadmium was 32% higher at 0.065ppm instead of 0.0002ppm.

Prof Tan said the latest readings were recorded last week, following reports by fish farm owners of dying fish possibly due to this phenomenon, though this has yet to be confirmed.

She said the high metal pollution could also be the reason some of the live marine specimens at the Cemacs research lab at the park’s beach were showing signs of stress and dying.

Prof Tan noted that some of the fishermen had filed reports to the Fisheries Department and police upon discovering the dead fish.

“But there are no cases reported of people being poisoned from eating contaminated fish.

“The issue is that it is affecting marine resources rather than humans.

“It does not pose a danger to swimmers other than slight irritation,” she said.

It is learnt that the Department of Environment (DoE) has yet to determine the source of the metal poisoning although it has been over a month since high levels of nickel were detected off the coast of Teluk Bahang.

Both DoE and Penang Island City Council have been unsuccessful in narrowing down the source, including identifying any factory using high levels of nickel in its manufacturing process.

State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh expressed disappointment, noting that DoE would usually be quick in handling and containing such issues.

“It is puzzling that DoE has not been able to find the source of the pollution.

“We have ruled out dumping by vessels or boats but all efforts are being done to find factories that have been using nickel,” said Phee when contacted.


   

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