GEORGE TOWN: An environmental activist has suggested a link between the air quality in Sungai Petani which her group claims has been affected by the burning of waste at illegal plastic factories and an increase in respiratory-related illnesses in the area.
Lydia Ong, the pro tem committee chief of Persatuan Tindakan Alam Sekitar (PTAS) Sungai Petani, said a five-year-old girl in the area had been suffering from severe bronchitis since March.
She said the child had gone to the doctor’s with a high fever and was hospitalised after showing no improvement.
Since then, she has been admitted to the hospital three times and is now relying on a concoction of drugs and a nebuliser to keep lung-related infections at bay.
“The poor girl has met so many doctors, trying to diagnose why her bronchitis has lasted so long.
“We can only surmise that it is due to the pollution that began in late 2018,” Ong said.
She said PTAS’ research at five popular general practitioners found a significant increase in respiratory-related illnesses in the larger Sungai Petani and Kuala Muda area over the past six months.
She said the number of patients had increased by 20-30%, especially at night when the majority of those who come in complain of breathing difficulties and other allergic reactions.
Ong acknowledged the inconclusive nature of the surveys as well as their limited population sample but said the results warrant an immediate investigation by the Kedah health department.
She said PTAS’ latest reading of the air pollution index (API) using its own industrial-grade instruments showed the numbers at 181 for PM2.5 and 263 for PM10 as of June 19.
This is an increase from the readings on June 6 which showed 164 for PM2.5 and 232 for PM10.
An API reading of 101 to 200 is classified as “unhealthy” while numbers between 201 and 300 are classified as “very unhealthy”. Numbers from 51 to 100 are “moderate”, while 0 to 50 is “good”.
PM2.5 are fine particles measuring just 3% of a human hair which can enter the circulatory system. They have been closely linked to heart attacks, besides triggering 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 result in respiratory problems such as bronchitis and high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and premature death.
The Kedah government recently ordered local authorities to close and seal off 21 factories operating illegally in Sungai Petani.
However, PTAS says it has video evidence that the factories are still burning rubbish late at night.
FMT recently reported the discovery of a large plastic dumpsite in Sungai Petani, with waste from Europe and Pakistan which was found scattered in a jungle clearing and set alight by scavengers looking to sell metal bits.
The Kedah government cleared the site and reportedly billed the landowner for it while vowing to eradicate illegal plastic waste facilities.
FMT has contacted Kedah executive councillor in charge of the environment Ooi Tze Min for comment and is awaiting his reply.