Peat fires possible reason for ‘very unhealthy’ air quality, says Klang MP

Environment ministry, Department of Environment and Fire and Rescue Department officials inspect a plantation at Johan Setia, Klang, on Saturday. (Bernama pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Klang MP Charles Santiago today said peat fires could be a cause of the “very unhealthy” air quality recorded in Johan Setia in his constituency during the last few days.

He also renewed his call for Malaysia to pass a law that would allow the government to bring companies to court if they were found to worsen the haze.

Peat soil is formed from partially decomposed plant material under anaerobic water saturated conditions

“When the water level drops, and you throw a cigarette butt (for example), it can catch fire and it burns underground.

“You don’t see it burning, but it’s burning and burning rapidly. It goes on for five or six days and maybe, only heavy rain will put it out,” Santiago said.

Selangor environment committee chairman Hee Loy Sian had been reported as saying the “very unhealthy” Air Pollutant Index readings recorded in Johan Setia since Thursday were not due to open burning but to the transboundary haze.

He said that less than 5% of the 404ha of agricultural land in Johan Setia was affected by open burning.

“The agricultural land here is the second largest after Cameron Highlands in terms of vegetable cultivation.

“Open burning is under control and is carried out in small plots by foreign farmers and does not contribute to the increase in API reading here,” he told reporters after visiting agricultural land in Johan Setia.

Santiago said he had raised the issue of peat soil with the state government and the Klang city council previously.

On the transboundary haze, he said Malaysia should pass a law similar to Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014.

The law allows regulators to prosecute companies or individuals found to cause severe air pollution.

Santiago also said that, based on information he received from Indonesia, three Malaysian companies and one Singaporean company have been identified and are being investigated for open burning in Indonesia.

However, he said he does not know the companies involved.

Indonesian authorities said they have sealed off land belonging to subsidiaries of Sime Darby Plantation, IOI Corporation, TDM Bhd and Kuala Lumpur Kepong Group.

But Sime Darby Plantation said that as of Friday afternoon, no action had been taken to seal off the operations of its subsidiary, PT Sime Indo Agro (PT SIA).

IOI Corporation was also reported to have said its Indonesian subsidiary, PT Sukses Karya Sawit (PT SKS), had not been told by the Indonesian government that its land had been sealed off due to forest fires.

Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd, meanwhile, said it would cooperate with the Indonesian authorities in its investigation into forest fires on land owned by its subsidiary, PT Adei Plantation and Industry (POT Adei).

The group confirmed the occurrence of a hotspot area which affected 2.8ha of the 14,400ha estate managed by PT Adei, saying it happened during an unusually acute dry spell where rain was recorded on only two days out of the last 60.

“At present, 4.25ha, which includes an isolation area, have been sealed off for on-going investigations,” it said on Friday.