Buck up on SOPs for bauxite mining, experts tell government

The moratorium on bauxite mining, enforced in 2016, will be lifted at the end of March. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: An expert on water quality has urged the government to prove that residents in Pahang will be safe from pollution caused by activities related to bauxite mining, following Putrajaya’s announcement that the three-year ban on mining will not be extended past end-March.

“I heard that there are new standard operating procedures in place, but these better be very good because the effect last time was horrendous,” Zaki Zainudin, formerly of International Islamic University Malaysia, told FMT.

He was referring to allegations that the former Barisan Nasional government failed to prevent widespread pollution caused by bauxite mining in Kuantan.

“What we want to see is whether the authorities can fulfil their end of the bargain (to enforce regulation on activities related to bauxite mining),” he added.

“We would like to remind the government and respective stakeholders that they have a lot to prove in terms of properly regulating these activities.”

Bauxite mining was banned in early 2016 after unregulated mining and run-offs from unsecured stockpiles in Pahang contaminated water sources, turning roads, rivers and coastal waters red.

On Monday, Putrajaya announced that it would not extend the moratorium due to strong demand for bauxite, which is mainly used in the production of aluminium.

Noting that bauxite washing would now be part of the mining activities, Zaki said this could have an adverse impact on rivers.

“How will the wastewater be treated? Even if it does not rain, some sort of wastewater will be generated,” he said.

He also voiced concern over erosion, which he said had occurred in the past.

“When it rains, that transports materials into the rivers. So the authorities must tackle any erosion from the mining site which will transport bauxite sediment into rivers or surrounding water columns.”

If not, he said, the sediment would affect fish and other creatures and carry heavy metals such as iron into the water.

It all boils down to proper enforcement and mitigation to ensure that the environment is not affected, he said, adding that many other countries carried out bauxite mining as well.

Maketab Mohamed, the former director of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Unit, said bauxite washing had been done before at Bukit Sagu in Pahang.

“Uncontrolled washing without proper treatment of the wastewater with very high total suspended solids and high amounts of toxic heavy metals such as mercury will be bad for the environment,” he said, noting that the washing facility is located upstream of water intakes for Kuantan such as Sungai Kuantan.

He also warned of spills from unregulated transport of the ore without proper covered vehicles.

When asked if it was too soon to lift the moratorium, Maketab said it was not a matter of whether to ban mining activities.

“It’s not about the moratorium; it’s about how government agencies do their jobs or not.”