KUALA LUMPUR: The presence of heavy metals in treated water in Kuantan may have confirmed the worst-case scenario of bauxite contamination raised by experts in August.
Analyses on Dec 3 by a team of experts show traces of aluminium in the treated water supply in Felda Bukit Goh and Felda Bukit Sagu, and lead, in Semambu.
Experts believe these traces could have come from the bauxite sediments in runoff water from the heavy rains that have lashed the state in recent weeks. Scientists believe that the runoff, with the contaminants, have seeped into the water supply.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Chemical Engineering Department’s Professor Dr Maketab Mohamed, who was part of the team, said the one-off sampling, which was commissioned and funded by concerned residents in Kuantan, had unearthed non-compliance in the treated water in three areas.
“The lead content at the consumers’ end, which was taken from the Semambu area, was at 0.022 mg/L, which exceeded the limit set by the Health Ministry, which is at 0.01 mg/L.
“There is also ‘non-compliance’ for aluminum (Al) at Station 9 (0.29 mg/L) and Station 10 (0.25 mg/L). The limit set by the mHealth Ministry is 0.20 mg/L. Both sampling sites were in residential areas at Felda Bukit Goh, Kuantan. There was also a near non-compliance at Station 7 (0.19 mg/L), taken at a residence in Felda Bukit Sagu.”
He said even though aluminium was used as a coagulant in the treatment of water, it was unusual to have such high levels of it in drinking or potable water.
“Without bauxite or other surface mining near water catchment areas, heavy metal levels in water do not exceed that set by the ministry.
“The non-compliance indicates that the main problem is the storm runoff that contains bauxite, especially near water catchment areas, which is polluting the raw water.
Maketab urged the ministry also called on the Health Ministry to come up out with parameters for aluminium concentration in raw water.
“The concentration of aluminium at the three raw water intakes (Sg Kuantan Barrage at Kg Kobat; Sg Batu/Sg Rong confluence for Felda Bukit Sagu intake; and Sg Riau for Felda Bukit Goh intake) are at 0.74 mg/L, 0.78 mg/L and 0.81 mg/L respectively.
“Although the ministry does not have parameters for aluminium concentration in raw water, something must be done to control the aluminium pollution as a result of bauxite mining, which is contaminating the drinking water supply.”
It is believed that aluminium is linked to degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Water quality specialist Dr Zaki Zainudin said water sources near the bauxite mining areas were expected to be contaminated further during rainy season as more discharge from the mining would flow into the water sources.
“The impact of bauxite mining in Kuantan is visible and widespread. The streams, rivers and even coastal areas have all turned red as a result of anthropogenic activities, either directly or indirectly.
“It will become worse in the rainy season as more runoff is generated and sediment is channelled into nearby water sources.”
He said the blanket of choking red dust from the mining of bauxite mining in Kuantan should have been enough to set off alarm bells to galvanise the relevant authorities into action.
“Something is wrong here and it doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. The issue is staring at us right in the face. The fact that nothing has been done, is a travesty.”
Zaki also challenged those claiming that the experts were exaggerating the claims of a health risk.
“Would you eat fish that has been swimming in that pool of red filth? And if the water is so safe, why not have a drink straight from the source, like how our ancestors used to, without any physico-chemical treatment, except boiling it?”
Environmental health expert Professor Dr Jamal Hisham Hashim, in an online discussion on Facebook, said the poorly-regulated bauxite mining in Kuantan made a mockery of the legal system and environmental governance.
“We, as environmental professionals, cannot just sit back and watch this continue unabated. We cannot to allow the plundering of the environment. It goes against our conscience and professional responsibility. We have to intervene and make it right.”