THE recent toxic pollution incident in Pasir Gudang, Johor, serves as a strong reminder that just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there, or that it won’t hurt anyone.
I have been privileged to work with the Seletar indigenous community in Kampung Pasir Putih, Pasir Gudang. Their homes are on stilts, tucked away where Sungai Laloh meets the sea. If you ever have the chance to see their kampung, you will be appalled. All sorts of waste is dumped within walking distance of their homes – glass, construction waste, bricks and so forth. Those are the visible items.
It is the non-visible waste that concerns us all. And this should be a priority for the country to tackle.
In the last four years, the Seletar have been experiencing abnormal illnesses such as holes in the heart and unexplainable deaths among children (who swim in Sungai Laloh and the sea daily). The Department of Orang Asli Development, the Health Ministry, the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry and others should have a serious look at this and put science into action.
We have laboratory equipment sitting in universities that could help us understand the links between a toxic environment and a community’s health.
The incident in Pasir Gudang unearthed a chronic and serious issue which has gone on for years due to a lack of enforcement, a lack of stricter guidelines and regulations for industries, and, for the biggest part, ignorance. This has to change.
Firstly, industries must be held responsible and accountable. All industries should be monitored diligently.
Secondly, tougher penalties and punishments need to be put in place. Any threat to human health is like murder. Polluters must pay for their lackadaisical behaviour, they must be taken to court as environmental pollution is a crime. It hurts families and communities, and in some instances, results in permanent physical and psychological damage.
Lastly, the role of the media needs to evolve from just reporting the news to actually advocating on matters like these. This is because Pasir Gudang is only one industrial location in the country. There are many more. Often these areas are less than 10km away from communities, so the areas’ environmental health need to be assessed and monitored. This is where the media can help to provide better awareness among the public with regular stories.
We cannot be remediating, rehabilitating and restoring polluted spaces only, we need to be proactive to prevent pollution from happening, and that takes an army of concerned politicians, government officers and agencies, members of the public, the media, NGOs and academia.
Founder and President, EcoKnights
Did you find this article insightful?