Sg Petani not the next Pasir Gudang, say DoE and state govt

Kedah DoE director Tunku Khalkausar Tunku Fathahi (second from right), state Environment and Climate Change Committee chairman Simon Ooi Tze Min (second from left in black jacket), and state Health Committee chairman Dr Ismail Salleh (right, in songkok) at the press conference in Alor Setar today.

GEORGE TOWN: The state government and the Department of Environment (DoE) today dismissed suggestions that Sungai Petani is the next Pasir Gudang.

Kedah DoE director Tunku Khalkausar Tunku Fathahi also denied claims by a group that Sungai Petani’s air quality had reached very unhealthy levels. She said it was in the “good” and “moderate” levels.

At a press conference in Alor Setar today, she said the group’s use of a wrong Air Pollutant Index (API) reader had led it to believe there was pollution when in reality, there was none.

Tunku Khalkausar said the DoE had contacted the API reader’s manufacturer in the United Kingdom and was told that the device only gave an “indicative reading” and was meant for indoor use with an accuracy of “about 20%”.

For the past two months, Persatuan Tindakan Alam Sekitar (PTAS) SP has been campaigning for an urgent probe into illegally operating plastic recycling factories, which it claims were burning plastics and causing massive pollution in town.

The group has also bought its own API reader which showed air quality levels breaching 300 on the PM2.5 scale, which was very unhealthy.

Tunku Khalkausar said in reality, DoE’s ambient API measuring station in Sungai Petani was far superior, with numbers barely reaching 75 on the API since January this year.

She said the highest number recorded was last year, at 98. Both numbers are within moderate levels. Numbers beyond 101 are considered unhealthy.

The press conference was also attended by Kedah Environment and Climate Change Committee chairman Simon Ooi Tze Min and state Health Committee chairman Dr Ismail Salleh.

Ismail, in calling for all this “panic mongering” to stop, said there was no proof that the health levels had deteriorated due to “so-called air pollution”.

“Many are starting to call Kedah the second Johor. This is unfair.”

He was referring to severe air pollution in the Pasir Gudang district, Johor, which caused dozens to fall ill and for all schools and kindergartens to be closed for four days from June 24. The pollution is said to have been caused by chemical factories there.

Tunku Khalkausar said Kedah DoE would, however, intensify enforcement and surveillance efforts in town, following mounting complaints that factories were burning plastics.

She said a team of officers from Alor Star would be loaned to DoE’s Sungai Petani branch to do this.

Tunku Khalkausar, in explaining the noxious smell residents had complained of, said it was caused by open burning in many parts of Sungai Petani.

She noted that 48% of the complaints received by Kedah DoE up to June this year was on open burning.

Regarding the complaint by residents about hazy skies, Tunku Khalkausar attributed this to humidity levels between 10am and noon, which reached 90%.

Combined with still air, it gave an appearance of haze, but in reality, it was just “water vapour”, she added.

She said to date, the state DoE had issued 43 notices, 37 compound fines, 36 notices to seal equipment and a prohibition order.

Illegal factories

Meanwhile, Ooi said the state had taken “drastic” measures by sealing 15 illegal plastic recycling factories in response to rising complaints about pollution.

He said the state government was now in talks with Tenaga Nasional Berhad and state water company Sada to cut power and water supply to errant factories.

Ooi said the state had also issued a directive to the Sungai Petani Municipal Council (MPSPK) to not renew any more licences related to plastic industries.

“There are factory operators which are stubborn and continue to operate despite being given orders to stop. And some also continue to operate secretly and have covered their tracks well to avoid enforcement action.

“We assure the people of SP that we are doing what we can to curtail this.

“But in the meantime, we do not want people to cause panic or give an inaccurate picture before a comprehensive study by the environment and health authorities is done,” he said at the same press conference.

Bleeding nose

Ismail said based on data from June last year till June this year at the Bakar Arang government health clinic, situated within Sungai Petani’s industrial area, there had been no rise in respiratory illnesses, as claimed by some people.

He said the illnesses checked for were asthma, upper respiratory tract infection and conjunctivitis, which he said were common when air pollution occurs.

Ismail, however, said there had been a slight increase in respiratory-related illnesses at the nearest government hospital, but that it could not be blamed on pollution alone.

“If there is a correlation between air pollution and rising respiratory illnesses, then we can say it is plausible there is indeed a problem. But now, there is none. Air quality has been good to moderate and there is no uptick in cases from the nearest clinic.

“A lot of untruths are being spread on WhatsApp and Facebook. We want all to be more responsible. Just because you see a kid with a bleeding nose, it does not mean it is a result of pollution.

“Nose bleeds are common as the capillaries in noses are small and are prone to burst easily.”