Malaysia: Long-term damage from bauxite mining hard to fix

QISHIN TARIQ The Star 17 Feb 16;

PETALING JAYA: While Kuantan may be seeing some improvement to its environment following the moratorium against bauxite mining, academics say the long-term damage may be much harder to fix.

United Nations University research fellow Prof Dr Jamal Hisham Hashim said unless the mining areas were rehabilitated, a temporary ban on bauxite mining would not be enough to fix things.

He said rehabilitation meant measures like refilling mines and repairing damage to roads and neighbourhoods near mines.

"Rehabilitation isn't likely, especially not by illegal miners. They can leave it to the land owners to clean up the mess," he said, during a forum on sustainable bauxite mining at University Malaya here on Tuesday.

Prof Dr Jamal revealed that of the 1,200ha of bauxite mines in Kuantan, 790ha were on Felda land, which was previously oil palm plantations.

Universiti Teknologi Mara Assoc Prof Dr Harinder Rai Singh said the Pahang capital was at a tipping point and, if not addressed the oil palm estate ecosystem could be permanently damaged.

On the Felda settlers’ move to clear their lots to mine for bauxite, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Chemi­­­cal Engineering Depart-ment Associate Prof Dr Maketab Moha­mad said it could damage future attempts to regrow oil palm trees there.

He said water pollution data showed the presence of chromium in bauxite run-off, which was poisonous to oil palm trees.

Several academics presented studies on air and water pollution in Kuantan during the forum which suggested pollution levels had improved leading up to the moratorium, as mining activities slowed down even before the ban.

A representative from the Mine­ral and Geoscience Department in attendance urged the academia to conduct more studies during the moratorium to accurately gauge its impact.

Asked if the environmental agencies were working with the academics, he said that the agencies were conducting their own research on how to improve the bauxite industry.

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry had imposed a three-month moratorium starting Jan 15 against the mining and transport of bauxite ore.

The temporary ban was to allow Kuantan Port to clear its backlog of bauxite stockpiles and for the authorities to improve bauxite industry standards.

About two-thirds of the areas polluted by bauxite waste here, covering 39 locations and 17 residential sites, have since been cleaned up.

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