2 Kedah towns record worst air quality in the country after landfill fire

A firefighter dousing smoldering layers of waste at the Semeling landfill in Kedah today.

SUNGAI PETANI: A Kedah official today said the area around the small towns of Semeling and Bedong, about 15km north of here, has recorded very unhealthy air quality of 222 under the Air Pollutant Index (API), as firefighters continue to put out a smoldering fire that started nine days ago.

The area today had the lowest air quality in the country, with other parts of the country recording moderate levels at 33 stations and another 33 stations recording healthy air quality levels.

On Jan 20, the fire department reported that three acres of the 6-acre Semeling landfill, or a three football field-sized area, had caught fire. It continues to smolder until today.

Speaking at a press conference at the landfill today, police said a 35-year-old suspected drug addict had set fire to another three areas of the same landfill on Jan 24.

The landfill continues to smolder.

Kuala Muda district police chief Adzli Abu Shah said a man who was believed to be high on morphine had admitted to having set fire to cables there in an attempt to salvage metal from them. He said he had not intended to burn the landfill.

Adzli said the man had been remanded for four days for criminal trespassing and drug use and that the investigation papers had been sent to the attorney-general’s office.

Officials said a final tally showed that 32ha of the 45ha landfill had been burnt as a result of the Jan 20 and Jan 24 fires.

Meanwhile, Kedah Environment Committee chairman Simon Ooi said a mobile API reader from the Department of Environment had been placed at Taman Universiti, 2km south of the landfill.

He said the 222 air quality reading was recorded as of 9am this morning in the Semeling area, which essentially covers the Bedong area, too. He advised residents in the area to remain indoors whenever possible and to shut all windows and doors, and also to remain hydrated.

Kedah Environment Committee chairman Simon Ooi (right) at a press conference at the Semeling landfill in Kedah today. With him are (from left) Kuala Muda OCPD Adzli Abu Shah, Kedah Fire and Rescue operations assistant director Mohamadul Ehsan Mohd Zain, Local Government Committee chairman Tan Kok Yew and Merbok MP Nor Azrina Surip.

Ooi said for Sungai Petani, in general, the API reading remained moderate, recording 61 as of 3pm from a fixed station. He said the air quality might worsen at night and dawn due to high humidity levels.

Separately, Kedah Local Government Committee chairman Tan Kok Yew said strong winds continued to make firefighting at the site difficult, with only about 40% of the smoldering fire put out as of today.

He urged everyone to remain calm as firefighters were on the site “24-7” to put out the fire. He said the smoldering layers on the lower parts of the waste continued to be an issue.

A total of 17 “water bombs” had been released onto the burning landfill by airborne fire units in an operation yesterday.