Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Report: Report of Field Trip Findings on Pollution by Press Metal Sarawak Sdn Bhd: Aluminium Smelting Plant at Balingian, Mukah,Sarawak

Read the full version here: http://peoplesdocumentary.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/report-of-field-trip-findings-on-pollution-by-press-metal-sarawak-sdn-bhd-aluminium-smelting-plant-at-balingian-mukahsarawak/

Report of Field Trip Findings on Pollution by Press Metal Sarawak Sdn Bhd: Aluminium Smelting Plant at Balingian, Mukah,Sarawak
by Leerang Bato@周泽南
An Aluminium Smelting Plant ( Press Metal Sarawak Sdn Bhd) which started to operate in early 2009 at Balingian, Mukah, Sarawak, is believed to have caused serious health hazards and economic losses among the natives(majority of them are of iban ethnic  group) living adjacent to the plant.
When interviewed and surveyed by documentary filmmaker Leerang Bato and Matek Geram( staff of ngo called Sarawak Dayak Iban Association-SADIA) during 2nd and 3rdFebruary 2012, peoples from 4 out of around 20 longhouses living within 300m to 12km from the plant  said they suffer symptoms such as breathing difficulties, coughing, dizziness, headache, skin rashes, eyesore and even asthma, when the plant releasing its emissions which is believed to contain pollutants such as fluoride particulates( probably NaF3, AlF3 and Na3AlF6), Hidrogen Fluoride, Perfluorocarbons(probably CF4 and C2F6) and Sulphur Dioxide.
Survey and interviews also shown that all of the respondents believed that those symptom are developed because of the emission from the aluminium smelting plant.
The controversial plant which is owned by Press Metal Sarawak Sdn Bhd started its operation in this highly populated area( estimated population around 2000) since early 2009. Ironically, Balingian is the constituency of Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud. Longhouse peoples who suffer the above mentioned symptom went for medical treatment regularly at private clinic at Balingian or Mukah hospital. Averagely, they have been spending RM150 to Rm500 per month for each family(or called Pintu by the Iban locals).This longhouse residents who stay 300m to 12km from the Aluminium smelting plant also suffer loss of food such as paddy, vegetables, fruit trees and cash crop.
Impact on Plants 
When we were approaching  the area 50m to 200m from the plant, we observed that almost every types of plants  including huge forest trees, nipah plant, coconut trees, sago plant, banana trees,oil palm, bushes and ferns are dying. Pictures taken on some of those dying vegetation shown the leaves turned into brownish while other parts of the plant still growing. Some fruit trees such as “jambu air”, banana and coconut either doesn’t bear fruits or no fruit at all. Closer to the factory, which is around 50m distance, almost everything  can not grow. Big forest tree are totally dead leaving empty branches behind. Matek shown us while approaching the factory from Mukah-Balingian main road,which is at least several km from the plant, grasses by the roadside had turned into brown colour which is never happen before.
Farmers said the impact are particularly serious among leafly plants such as vegetables, banana trees, sago, coconut etc. A farmer staying as far as 15km from the plant said he can not grow paddy anymore because the paddy just cant bear fruit. This situation had started since early 2009 which is coincided with the operation of the Aluminium plant.
Not only that, riverine and inshore fisherman at Batang Balingian which is approximately 15km from the plant also complaint of nipah trees dying since the aluminium plant started its operation.When interviewed, Dr John Brian suspected that the impact of this is caused by acid vapor emitted from the plant , which will bind itself with the morning mist and settle on nipah leaf as dew that contain dissolve acid. “The acid then have dehydration effect on the leaf by creating osmosis outflow of lower concentration liquid in the leave to higher concentration liquid as contaminated dew”, he said.
Not only plants which is very close to the Aluminium plant is dying, our observation shown that even sago palm, coconuts, paddy field, bananas and other crops within 12km from the plant are developing strange symptom and dying gradually. Due to this, longhouse peoples whereby most of them are farmers complaint that they almost  can’t  grow anything since the plants operating. As a results of that, farmers suffer loss of income and food sources.
Press Metal Denied Pollution
In an interview conducted by journalist from Shi Hua Daily( a Sarawakian owned chinese newspaper) published on 14th january2012,Deputy CEO of Press Metal Sarawak Aluminium Smelting plant Guan Bao Ming(管保明) had totally denied that their plant has caused the pollution. He said: “ We had done an EIA before constructed the plant, and we comply to all standard stated by NREB.” He said so to the Shi Hua Daily on 13th January when he brought medias and SCORE developer to visit the factory.
Aluminium smelting plants are well known worldwide as polluting and hazardous industries. In the Aluminium smelting processAlumina, the raw material in the form of dust, is electrolytically reduced into molted aluminum. This reaction occurs in Hall-Heroult reduction cells (called pots) where the bound oxygen in the alumina reacts with carbon electrodes to form carbon-dioxide gas and aluminium. Each ton of aluminium requires 0.4-.05 tons of carbon anodes.
The process produces a quantity of fluoride waste,which includes fluorocarbons and hydrogen fluoride as gases, and sodium and aluminium fluorides and unused cryolite as particulates.Scientist suggested, unless carefully controlled, these fluorides tend to be very toxic to vegetation around the factories.
Didn’t comply with condition stated in DEIA
Although claimed  to be complied with emission level required by NREB, but undisclosed source said that in order to save energy, the plant only operating 1 out of 3 of its compressors which is to clean  the air in the plant. Sources said the plant usually close the other 2 compressors at night and early in the morning, so that the breeze can bring the emission to the South China Sea.
Claims of the above informant  are supported by several testimonies from residents affected by the plant. They complain of breathing difficulties, cough, eye sore etc especially during night time and early morning. These residents believed the symptom they suffered has been due to “toxic gases” or emission from the plant.
Symptoms suffered by residents affected
Our survey shows during the time mentioned above, longhouses residents  suffered symptoms such as skin rashes, breathing difficulties, eyesores, continuous  cough, dizziness or/and headache, which is believed to be caused by polluted gases from the emission.
Health survey also shown that some longhouse peoples claim that they suffered from some severe symptoms such as Asthma, neck stiffness and high blood tension after the plant started operation in early 2009. This is to be confirmed with further investigation and medical examination.
Aluminium smelting plants has been causing environmental degradation and public nuisance all over the world. The major source of pollutants are emissions from the plant. A report by Dr . John Brian Anthony, titled “The Effects of Aluminium Smelting Plant for Sarawak” says:
“Emission from aluminium smelter plant is generally categorised under Class 3 Indicators: it is extremely hazardous, carcinogenic, teratogenic, mutagenic, highly toxic, in short is has high potential to cause CANCER among workers or general population living nearby the plant.Perfluorocarbon gases emission is a major contributor to global warming, causing generally a raising of temperature in the earth atmosphere that will melt ice in the north and south poles and bring higher tide resulting in flooding to lowland region.”
Dr.Brian had divided the health hazards by aluminium smelting plants into 3 categories:
Hydrogen Fluoride: can caused lung and bladder cancer, bone deformity, teeth decay and many more untold health hazards
Sulphur Dioxide:  caused general respiratory problems. It is corrosive to plants and building and is a source of acid rain. This will result in soil getting infertile.
Pungent odour: from the air emission is a public nuisance and very irritating. It lowers the quality of life of near by residence.
A case study of health impact by an Aluminium plant called Hindalco in Orissa,India has shown many similarities of symptoms or diseases suffered by peoples  with those we surveyed and interviewed. In a report called :“Ecological, Socio-Economic and Health Impact Assessment Due To Aluminium Smelters- A Case Study of Hindalco, in Orissa”; a survey was carried out in Larbanga, a village which is 4 km away from the plant, with 1913 total population, the results shown that:
“Disease usually reported include: cough, ARI( acute respiratory problem), dermatitis and other skin problem, diarrhea, malaria, joint paint and gastroenteritis.”
It also says: “ Majority of the villagers complain of eye allergy due to fly ash particles in the air, respiratory related disease.”
Besides, the survey also shown a shocking consequences, which says : “ Longevity of the villagers had dropped from 75+ years old to 60 years old”(after they suffered from pollution generated by the aluminium smelting plant).
Children, Women and Elders Suffered More
Our survey had discovered that several cases of children suffered serious respiratory diseases such as Asthma and old peoples suffered arthritis. This phenomenon also happened in a village called Nuajamuda, Orissa, which is only 500 metre away from the aluminium smelting plant. Under title no8 of the survey, ie Disease Usually Reported: it says:
“With interacting with the villagers it was found out that respiratory related disease is commonly found in this village as the power plant chimney is very near to this village. The wind rose diagrams of this area shows that this village comes under route of wind direction, so the tiny dusts emitting from the chimney settles in this village. Similarly the dust is causing various types of skin disease like itching problem, small ulcers in the skin.”
“Some people also complain about arthritis and this problem is found in case of old people and children. In case of older peoples, the bone related problem is found to be high and it may be concluded that, the fluoride emissions from the smelter plant is causing fluoride problem in this area.”
Quantifying the health impact
Health impact on residents living adjacent to the Balingian aluminium plant is quite obvious and has been reported in Sarawak local chinese newspaper( 25.8.2011) after the plant started its operation for about one and a half year. But quantifying the impact on health by emission from the plant is necessary, to find out how serious and how common the problem is. We hope this premilineary survey could serve as a background information for basic reference, so that more detail survey or research can be done in future, to identify the implications of pollution from the plant.Thus, we had carried out a simple health survey on 2nd and 3rd February 2012, in 3 longhouses which are nearest to the plant.
These longhouses are:
Rumah Bansan, 13 pintu, around 204 residents, less than 300m from the plant
Rumah Rawing, 15 pintu, around 150 residents,less than 800m from the plant
Rumah Chili,33 pintu, around 200 residents,around 2 and a half km from the plant

Other longhouses which are within 12km radius of the plant are as follows:
Rumah Dadum, more than 7 pintu, more than 70 residents
Rumah Aji, more than 40 pintu, around 500 residents
Rumah Luat, more than 15 pintu, around 250 residents
Besides the longhouses which mentioned above , at least 10 more other longhouses, a malay village and dozens of townhouse located within 15km from the plant are believed to be affected by the emission as well, this includes:
Balingian town, SRJK© Chung Hwa, Rumah Jamit, Rumah Saban, Rumah Seganggang, Rumah Liai, Rumah Mang, Rumah Geliga and Kampung melayu; all of them located along Batang Balingian.
We estimated that a total numbers of around 2000 residents, majority of them are farmers, would be affected directly by emission of the aluminium smelting plant.

The health survey form are as follows:
 Health Survey of Residents affected by Press Metal Aluminium Smelting Plant, Balingian
 Tarikh survey(date of survey):
Pihak yang menjalankan kajian( Organization which carried out this survey):
Nama Rumah Panjang (name of longhouse):
Bilangan Pintu(no of family unit):
Jumlah Penduduk(population):
1.Nama Responden(Name of respondent):
2.Bilangan Ahli Keluarga(no of family members):
3.Bilangan Ahli Keluarga yang ada tanda-tanda penyakit berikut(no of family members who show these symptoms):
Kulit gatal(skin rashes)
Sesak nafas(breathing difficulties)
Penglihatan tak jelas(eye sores)
Kelahiran tidak normal(Born with abnormality)
Lain-lain(others):Sila nyatakan(Please stated)

4.Sejak bila tanda-tanda penyakit tersebut wujud(Symptom shown since when):
5.Berapa kerap mendapat rawatan(How often seek for treatment):
6.Berapa sudah belanja atas rawatan dan ubat(How much has been spent on treatment):
7.Adakah anda rasa tanda-tanda penyakit tersebut disebabkan oleh kilang aluminium atau arang:
(Do you think those symptom are caused by the aluminium or coal factories?)

Findings of health survey
21 households with a total number of 137 family members were surveyed of the symptoms they suffered since early 2009 which is the time the Aluminium plant started its operation. Most of the respondents of the survey are leader of each household, they spoke on behalf of themselves and their family members.
Analysis of family members with different symptoms as a whole
Average and percentage of residents from 3 surveyed longhouses who suffer from symptoms as stated are as follows:
Family members with skin rashes: 25/137(18.25%)
Family members with breathing difficulties: 40/137( 29.20%)
Family members with eyesores or/and affected eyesight: 53/137( 38.69%)
Family members with continuous  cough: 33/137(% )
Studies on health impact of Aluminium smelting plant shown exposure to Hidrogen Fluoride can lead to eye and skin irritations( >900 ug/m3),irritations of the respiratory tract(>2100 ug/m3), dental fluorosis and osteoporosis( >1780 ug/m3). While  comments on DEIA for the proposed aluminium smelting Plant submitted by CAP and SAM stated that: “Emission test results from aluminium smelters also reveal that primary aluminium reduction plants may emit Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, which includes a combination of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons such as anthracene, benzo(a)anthracene, benzo(a)pyrene… etc  are probable human carcinogens.”
The comment also said: “ Spefically,long-term exposure to benzo(a)pyrene has been reported to result in toxic effects on skin, irritation to eyes and cataracts in humans, and toxic effects on liver, blood and the immune system in animal studies.”
Looking at the high percentage of symptoms includes skin rash, coughing, eyesore, breathing problems and even asthma developed among the 3 longhouses dwellers, we believe that a thorough studies on health impact on longhouse peoples living adjacent to the aluminium plant has to be done, to determine the causes of it, to compensate them for the health risk, medical treatment expenses and loss of livelihood.

Fish Dead Incidence at Streams flowing to Batang Balingian
Several fish dead incidents were reported at streams flowing into Batang Balingian since 2009. Longhouse peoples especially riverine fishermen said in one incident, 2 to 3 tonnes of dead prawn and fishes were collected at Balingian river. They said this would happen when Balingian river was flooded, which may bring down wastewater from the aluminium plant. A fisherman at Kuala Balingian, Tambi anak Geram said fish dead incident only occurred after the aluminium plant started its operation. He believed that wastewater from the plant which would be discharged into several smaller streams near to the plant, such as Sungai Sebetong, Sungai Bayan, Sungai Bedengan and Sungai Mateding, which would finally meet the river mouth of Batang Balingian and South China Sea, was the major cause of water pollution. Tambi has been a life- long fisherman and he never encounter fish and prawn dying incident in such a large scale.
Fish catch depleted drastically
There are about 40 to 50 fishing boats belongs to riverine and inshore fishermen at Kuala Balingian, most of them are ibans. Most of them using small net to catch freshwater prawns and fishes at Kuala Balingian, its tributaries and inshore area. At least 3 fishermen we met were complaining about  depletion of their catch since 2009. Tambi anak Geram strongly believe that prawn and fish dwindle because water has been polluted either by wastewater, water runoff or by emission from the aluminium plant which turn into acid rain. He said, 2 years ago, his prawn catch was at least triple the quantity he catch nowadays.
He said, apart from that, nipah leaves dying phenomenon also shown the impact of pollutant from emission of the aluminium plant. Nipah leaves is a source of building material for longhouse peoples, since 2009 and onwards, a lot of the nipah plants are dying, showing the same symptoms developed by vegetation growing adjacent to the aluminium plant. He believed depletion and dying of nipah plant will eventually affecting the fish and prawn resources as they serve as breeding ground for this aquatic animals.
Health Problems of Workers at Aluminium Smelting plant
Many reports have cited human health effects of aluminium smelting including the development of multiple chemical sensitivity problems as workers are exposed to various chemicals.Among others, workers are subject to the effects of fluoride poisoning. Symptoms include osteosclerosis( hardening of the bones), sinus problem, chest pains, cough,thyroid disorders, anemia,dizziness, weakness and nausea.
Not only the DEIA does not adequately addressing the occupational hazards, our interviews with some ex-workers in the plant show some of this findings:
  1. Workers who work in the major smelting work place are required to take a tablet of unknown medicine each day. They were not told what kind of medicine they were taking and what is the purpose.
  2. Employment contracts for all workers were limited to maximum 2 years. But they were not told by the company the reason of this limitation.
  3. None of the workers was informed about the health impact of various kind of chemicals in the plant, during the process or outside the plant.
  4. Even ex-supervisor who are locals was not informed of danger and health hazards of the emission, alumina dust and wastewater of the plant.
  5. Some of the workers were told to wear mask but not explained why to do so.
  6. Some higher ranking officers quit their job because they were worried about their health.
  7. Other workers quit because the plant management refused to follow their recommendation pertaining the treatment of emission. For example, in order to save energy, the management ordered the workers to shut down another 2 compressor and only leaving 1 compressor to operate, which resulted in not fully treated air emission into the surrounding.
  8. One of the mitigation measures recommended in DEIA is : “industrial vacuum cleaner or road sweeper shall be used for accumulated dust. The frequency shall be at least twice a day and increased the frequency when the weather condition is very dry or during maximum operational condition.” Yet, some ex-workers said they didn’t notice such an increase in frequency in very dry day or other circumstances.
  9. DEIA also said: “The air pollution control system shall be monitored in accordance to DOE’s technical Guidance on Performance Monitoring of Air Pollution Control System.” Informant said every time when DOE was inspecting, the plant management managed to fully operate all compressors.But when inspection is over, incident of “saving energy by only operating one compressor” will continued.
  10. DEIA also mentioned: “ Workers exposed to excessive level of ambient concentrations of PM10 and heavy metals during normal and abnormal operation within the plant must be provided with respiratory protection in the form of N95 respiratory masks.” But, informant said most workers only wearing ordinary paper masks or without wearing any masks.
  11. A pregnant local longhouse lady worker was advised by nurse in Mukah hospital to quit her job because dust and emission may affect the fetus. But she only said it verbally.
  12. Many workers develop symptoms such as sinus problem, chest pains, cough,thyroid disorders, anemia,dizziness, diarrhea,headache,fatique,nausea etc, which probably are the effects of fluoride poisoning.
  13. So far, not any of the medical staffs, doctors, nurses in private clinics or government hospital in Balingian and Mukah is  to testify causes of the pollution.

EIA transparency and public participation
None of the longhouse peoples we surveyed and interview know about the existence of EIA or DEIA of the aluminium smelting plant before or after the plant was constructed or operated.An NGO ie SADIA’s request to see the DEIA was rejected by NREB Kuching. On  7 February2012, when we went to NREB resource centre to look for the DEIA, librarian said It was kept by some officer to avoid being seen or accessed by public. He said: “ We don’t want some NGOs come and disclose content of the DEIA.”
1 short video on impact of emission on vegetation around the aluminium plant and another video on interview of fisherman talking about the cause of fish dead incident as well as fish catch depletion is available on this link:
  1. Our observation shown impact of emission on vegetation and crops is very obvious, its not exaggerate to say that anything  growing within 200m from the smelting plant is dying.
  2. Emission from the plant not only affecting vegetation within 12 km from the plant, nipah trees at Batang Balingian which is about 15km from the plant are also affected and some of them are dying.
  3. Livelihood of longhouse peoples, with majority of them are farmers has been badly affected by pollution on vegetation and crops.
  4. Longhouse peoples living adjacent to the plant has been suffering symptoms related to acute respiratory problems include cough, breathing difficulties, Asthma and skin rashes, which is quite common. Some older peoples also claimed to suffer from joint paints,high blood tension and other diseases.
  5. The above diseases cost longhouse peoples to spend about RM200 to RM400 per month per family, in seeking medical treatment.
  6. Pollution from Aluminium smelting plant also impacted riverine fishermen, causing fish catch dwindle and loss of food sources.
  7. Longhouse peoples complains to relevant authorities such as the district office and jabatan kesihatan Mukah,had fallen into deaf ear, and no action has been taken so far.
  8. Villagers are looking forward eagerly for help from anybody, to address their problems and to help them to stop their suffering.
  9. Stern and immediate action should be taken by government of Sarawak to solve this peoples problems and to compensate for their losses and suffering .The Aluminium plant should stop its operation before all the problems caused by it are solved.
  10. Public participation should be guaranteed in terms of access to information such as DEIA of the plant, peoples to be consulted before decision was made, and rights of their voice to be heard.
References( could be furnished upon requested )
1.The Effects of Aluminium Smelting Plant for Sarawak.by: Dr. John Brian Anthony(Available online)

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