DoE fails to seal carbon filter factory due to fires in pits

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GEORGE TOWN: Federal environmental regulators have failed to seal a plant making activated carbon in Bukit Mertajam, which is the subject of an investigation.

The efforts by the Department of Environment (DoE) failed as the fires in the open burning pits were tough to put out.

The DoE had sought the help of the state Fire and Rescue Department to extinguish the fires.

Firemen estimate it will take “four to seven days” to completely extinguish the embers in the dozens of sawdust pits.

The factory was using the conventional method of burning sawdust to make activated carbon, which is used widely in air purifiers, water filters and air-conditioners.

Authorities however have begun a graft probe on the factory, after it was revealed that the 5,000 sq metre factory in Kampung Sungai Lembu does not have a proper emission control system.

The DoE, in a statement today, said it had seized the entire plant through powers given via Section 38 of the Environmental Quality Act 1974.

“But for us to seal the factory, we have to extinguish the fires first,” the statement read.

Earlier today, it was reported that DoE officers had collected samples of sawdust, activated carbon and tools from the site as evidence.

Reports say residents in the area had been complaining about the persistent filthy air, which made them fall sick, over the past 10 years.

It is believed 11 people from a village 1km away had become very sick from incurable diseases after inhaling dust and smoke from the burning of the sawdust. The claim however, could not be substantiated.

On Thursday, the MACC led a multi-agency operation on the sawdust factory.

Penang Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh was later arrested along with two others – the factory’s 70-year-old manager and its director, aged 37, who is the manager’s son.

They were remanded for five days on Saturday.

They were released today however after the High Court declared their remand order illegal. The MACC plans to appeal against the decision soon.