Smog from landfill continues to torment Sungai Petani residents

The fires at the Semeling landfill in Sungai Petani, Kedah, put out a week ago. (Bomba pic)

SUNGAI PETANI: A week after a massive fire was put out at a landfill here, residents are still breathing in smog from the 1.2 ha dump site.

Although the fires at the Semeling landfill have died down, thick smoke continues to blow over the town, fanned by strong winds.

Firefighters say the layers of plastic waste in the landfill, which caught fire on Jan 20, are still smouldering and it is possible a fire may break out again at any time.

To make matters worse, a number of illegal recycling factories have taken advantage of the situation to carry out open burning, using the smog as a cover, Persatuan Tindakan Alam Sekitar Sungai Petani (PTAS) said.

“The factories appear to be going full steam ahead, even during the Chinese New Year weekend, camouflaged by the smoke,” the environmental group’s health adviser, Dr Sunny Tneoh, told FMT.

He said they had received reports from members that the smog from the landfill and the burning of waste had spread as far south as Seberang Perai.

Fifty-five firefighters have been stationed at the site for a round-the-clock watch. The Fire and Rescue Department said water remained scarce and the engines had to fill up with water from elsewhere as there were no hydrants nearby.

Sungai Petani fire chief Ismail Mohd Zain said visibility was poor, which impeded the firefighting efforts.

He said his men were working hard to douse the embers and dump layers of earth on the landfill to ensure they did not reignite.

“At times, the winds are strong and we cannot see anything. We are wearing respirators and goggles, yet our eyes are irritated by the smoke. But we hope the situation improves soon,” he told FMT.

Sungai Petani has been at the centre of a plastic waste dumping problem as items from developed countries have found their way here over the past two years. This follows China’s ban on imported plastic waste, which saw tonnes of unwanted material diverted to Southeast Asian countries.

After the government cracked down on parties dumping waste in Jenjarom, Selangor, the material has gone north to Sungai Petani and other towns, plausibly to prevent detection.

In Sungai Petani, the recyclers that process the waste – which PTAS estimates to number 100 – are illegal. They carry out their burning activities in the open.

These recyclers are also picky, choosing only high-grade plastic while others are dumped indiscriminately at remote locations.

A 2 ha dumping ground filled with mounds of plastic waste was recently found next to the Muda River, which is the main source of water supply for people in Kedah and Penang.

The Kedah government has since sealed off several dump sites and taken action against a number of illegal plastic recycling factories.