By Kurniawati Kamarudin & Noor Shamsiah Mohamed
This second of three articles on rising environmental pollution in Kuala Langat examines the efforts of a local pressure group to bring to book factories that are openly flouting environmental laws and regulations.
KUALA LANGAT (Bernama) – Rising environmental consciousness among the local communities in Kuala Langat district has resulted in them exposing issues related to the deteriorating air and river water quality in their residential areas.
Their barrage of complaints against factories allowed to operate within a stone’s throw from rivers and even from their homes and schools is not without basis.
A good case in point is Sungai Rambai in Jenjarom that flows into the Sungai Sepang basin in Selangor which has now been classified as the “most polluted river” among the 672 rivers monitored by the Department of Environment (DOE) nationwide.
Rivers are classified in accordance with their water quality index which takes into account, among others, the biochemical oxygen requirement (BOD). A high BOD is often associated with ineffective sewage treatment, or due to the emission of effluents from manufacturing and agriculture-based industries.
Many residents in Kuala Langat are up in arms over the environmental pollution caused by the mushrooming of factories and industries in the district over the last five years.
Worried about the long-term effects of the pollution on their health and well-being, several residents grouped together to form the Kuala Langat Environmental Action Association (PTASKL) in 2018 to voice out their grievances to the authorities.
Its chairman Tan Ching Hin, 64, who is Kampung Baru Jenjarom village head, recently accompanied Bernama on a random survey of Jenjarom town and the mukim of Teluk Panglima Garang (both are in Kuala Langat district) to take a look at, according to Tan, illegally constructed buildings that serve as factories.
He said factories operating without a licence are easy to identify as they do not have infrastructure such as roads and their premises are barricaded by zinc fencing to keep out the prying eyes of the public and authorities.
Furthermore, many of those factories are built on leased agricultural land that has yet to be converted to industrial status.
“It is not difficult to build a factory here… in just one month the building is completed and can start operating,” Tan claimed, adding that the factories are disrupting the lives of nearby residents who are also worried about the resulting pollution.
He told Bernama according to a survey carried out by the Kuala Langat Municipal Council (MPKL) in September this year, about 187 illegal factories located in the Teluk Panglima Garang, Batu 13 Sungai Rambai, Jenjarom, Batu 9 and Batu 10 Teluk Mengkuang, Batu 11, Banting, Jalan Pulau Carey Lama and Jalan Klang-Banting have yet to comply with the necessary procedures to meet the conditions set by DOE and the local authority in order to be issued a licence.
“We hope MPKL and the state government will take stern against those factories that refuse to comply with the procedures. The owners of the land (on which the illegal factories are sited) must also be held responsible as they are allowing the factories to operate on their land,” he added.
The Selangor government has given the landowners and factories concerned until the end of this year to take the necessary action to legalise their operations.
On the inception of the Kuala Langat Environmental Action Association or PTASKL, Tan said the idea of forming a pressure group came about in February 2018 when residents of Kampung Baru Jenjarom complained of the discomfort they felt putting up with a bad odour that permeated in the air.
On behalf of the residents, Tan wrote a letter of complaint to DOE and MPKL.
“We residents did our own investigations and found that the odour came from an illegal factory that processed plastic waste imported from overseas.
“We lodged a complaint with MPKL but no action was taken then,” he said.
However, after the media exposed the issue, the authorities swooped on the illegal plant and ordered it to shut down.
This was followed by the closure of 33 illegal plastic waste factories in Jenjarom, as well as the federal government’s decision to only allow imports of clean plastic waste that can be recycled into resin.
The Jenjarom community’s success in opening the eyes of the authorities spurred them to establish PTASKL in July 2018 to raise environmental issues affecting the well-being of Kuala Langat residents.
With only seven members on board then, the association got cracking soon after, identifying illegal factories and those contravening the Environmental Quality Act 1974. About 12 factories were found flouting the environmental law and complaints against them were lodged with DOE.
“One of the first things my fellow association members and I did was to learn more about the existing regulations and laws related to the environment and their jurisdictions,” Tan added.
One of PTASKL’s biggest exposés occurred in April 2019 when it exposed a battery factory at Jalan Sukepi in Jenjarom whose operations were causing lead and acid pollution. The factory was operating under a temporary licence issued by the Kuala Langat District Council (MDKL).
According to Tan, initially, their complaints against the factory went unheeded. But instead of being disheartened, the association got some of the factory workers and nearby residents to undergo blood tests to prove evidence of pollution.
“Sure enough, traces of lead were found in their blood samples,” he said, adding that the factory concerned was eventually ordered to cease operations.
However, recently the same factory appeared to have resumed its activities, causing a sense of uneasiness among Jenjarom residents.
The association has submitted a letter of protest – signed by Sijangkang state assemblyman Datuk Dr Ahmad Yunus Hairi and the various chairmen of residents associations and village leaders – to MPKL president Datuk Amirul Azizan, Kuala Langat MP Datuk Dr Xavier Jayakumar and State Executive Council member in charge of Environment, Green Technology and Orang Asli Affairs Hee Loy Sian.
“We don’t want a repeat of the lead pollution. We also don’t want any heavy industries in Jenjarom that can pose a danger to the residents and the environment,” said Tan.
Tan, who was born and raised in Jenjarom, said among the most recent complaints lodged by PTASKL involved an aerosol paint manufacturing plant said to have been operating without a licence at Batu 15, Jenjarom for about 10 years and causing odour pollution.
The rancid odour emitted by the factory, especially when burning solid waste and spraying paint, is causing much discomfort to the residents in the surroundings.
A letter of complaint was sent to Selangor DOE on Oct 21 and investigations by the agency found that there was basis to the allegations made by PTASKL.
“Legal action will be taken against the factory concerned,” said Tan, adding that the association, which now has 80 members, hoped that MPKL will also take stern action.
On PTASKL’s modus operandi, he said each time the association gets a complaint from residents, they would use Google location to establish the exact site of the source of pollution and carry out investigations which include collecting photographic evidence.
Next, they would check the status of the land on which the factory is located at the Kuala Langat Land Office.
“Thorough investigations must be carried out to find out whether or not a company is flouting the law. In the case of the battery plant (in Jenjarom), it belonged to the heavy industries category but, as we found out, it was operating on land reserved for medium-sized industries. We exposed their activities as it was illegal for them to carry out lead smelting works in that area,” explained Tan.
Meanwhile, Sijangkang assemblyman Ahmad Yunus said weaknesses in enforcement are among the reasons why it is difficult to address environmental issues in Kuala Langat.
He said only an integrated approach among government agencies and departments vested with the power to enforce the relevant laws and regulations can ensure that action is taken against errant factories and industries.
He said he himself has come across an illegal factory in his constituency which continued operating despite being told to stop its operations.
“I complained to MPKL after I found out that it was operating at night with container lorries coming in and out of the factory site.
“When a situation like this occurs, it is only right for the residents to question whether or not the local authority has taken action or if there is any weakness in integrity over there,” Ahmad Yunus said.
He added that when the local authority issues an order to a factory to cease its operations, Air Selangor and Tenaga Nasional Bhd should promptly discontinue water and electricity supplies to the premises concerned to prevent the plant from operating.
Translated by Rema Nambiar -BERNAMA