Group claims ‘very unhealthy’ air quality levels in Kedah town

Members of Persatuan Tindakan Alam Sekitar SP protesting against illegal plastic waste and air pollution in the area. With them are Kedah executive councillors Dr Robert Ling and Simon Ooi (front row, centre).

SUNGAI PETANI: An environmental group here claims the air pollution levels in many parts of town as well as the larger Kuala Muda district have reached “very unhealthy” levels despite official numbers showing moderate air quality.

Persatuan Tindakan Alam Sekitar SP (PTAS) pinned the blame for this on some 50 illegal recycling factories in the district which it said have been burning plastic waste in their compounds.

PTAS medical adviser Dr Sunny Tneoh told FMT that round-the-clock checks by members using the latest air quality monitoring equipment showed the air pollutant index (API) at 164 on a PM2.5 scale, which is classified as “unhealthy”.

PM10 numbers meanwhile hit a whopping 232 on the API, which is also considered unhealthy. The API reading by the Department of Environment (DoE) on the same day, June 6, was 53 on a PM2.5 scale. PM10 readings were not available.

Air quality levels taken by a roadside in Taman Keladi, Sungai Petani, on the second day of Hari Raya, which hit more than 164 on the API for PM2.5.

An API reading of 101 to 200 is classified as “unhealthy” while numbers of between 201 and 300 are “very unhealthy”. Readings of 51 to 100 are considered “moderate” while 0 to 50 is considered “good”.

PM2.5 are fine particles measuring 3% of a human hair which can enter the circulatory system. They have been closely linked to heart attacks and can trigger asthma and respiratory problems, according to a Journal of the American Medical Association study.

PM10 are slightly larger than PM2.5 particles, but high concentrations can also result in respiratory problems such as bronchitis and high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and premature death.

Tneoh said many Sungai Petani residents had complained of difficulty sleeping due to the smell of “burnt PVC, wires and short circuits” for the past six months.

This was based on feedback received on PTAS’ Facebook account as well as WhatsApp and WeChat groups over the period, he said.

Tneoh claimed the air quality in the area had been deteriorating since late last year, with many residents noting soot residue on their porches.

Unconvinced by the DoE’s results, he said, a PTAS member had purchased a German-made API monitor.

Several samples of air quality were then taken near factories, especially those that had been ordered to close for not having a permit.

PTAS medical adviser Dr Sunny Tneoh.

Tneoh said PTAS members found that these factories, all in the larger Sungai Petani area, had continued operating as well as burning plastic waste. He also said they had video evidence of this.

He said tests by PTAS also showed that the air quality was always close to 100 on the API regardless of location.

He claimed repeated complaints to the DoE as well as the Kedah government and Sungai Petani Municipal Council (MPSPK) had yielded no results.

“We know that over 20 factories that have been keeping unwanted plastic waste in their compounds have been sealed by MPSPK.

“The question we have is this: how are these factories still operating and burning waste in the open? Why isn’t the DoE or the environment minister here to have a look?

“We have tried so hard to speak to all sides, but there has been no concrete action. Why won’t they get a court order to cut their power and water supply, at least?” he said.

FMT recently reported the discovery of a large dumpsite for plastic waste in Sungai Petani, with waste from Europe and Pakistan scattered in a jungle clearing and set alight by scavengers looking to sell metal bits.

The Kedah government cleared the site, reportedly billing the landowner for it while vowing to eradicate illegal plastic waste plants.

Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamarudin said at the time that there were only five plastic recycling factories operating legally in the MPSPK jurisdiction, with 21 others sealed by the council.

FMT has contacted Kedah Environment Committee chairman Simon Ooi for comment and is awaiting a reply.