Chemicals from dumping incident still found in rivers 18 years later

The research found concentrations of phosphorus, copper and manganese in the water samples collected at six locations. However, the concentration level of the substances was not critical and could be removed with proper water treatment methods.


UM researchers collecting water samples from one of the six sampling points in Labis, Segamat to analyse the water quality levels as Tan (back) looks on. PHOTO: THE STAR

January 18, 2024

KUALA LUMPUR – A four-year study on water quality at several rivers here affected by an aluminium dross dumping incident in 2006 has detected the lingering presence of chemical substances.

The research, conducted by Universiti Malaya, found concentrations of phosphorus, copper and manganese in the water samples collected at six locations.

Villagers have been advised against drinking water directly from the rivers and wells.

“However, the water may be utilised for non-potable usage such as cleaning, watering and planting purposes,” said Dr Fathiah Mohamed Zuki from UM’s faculty of engineering, who headed the research.

The concentration level of the substances found in the water was not critical based on the national water quality standards and could be removed with proper water treatment methods, she added.

Fathiah said water samples were collected upstream from the Juaseh Dam to downstream areas such as Sungai Juaseh, Sungai Gatom, the intersection of Sungai Gatom and Sungai Labis, and Sungai Labis.

“The sampling locations were those affected by the aluminium dross dumping incident, which forced more than 300 residents of Kampung Sungai Gatom out of their homes. 

“Back then, the emission of ammonia fumes produced from the waste also caused the temporary closure of six schools, affecting some 3,000 students,” she said.

The water quality parameters measured in the study included the water quality index (WQI) namely the dissolved oxygen, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), chemical oxygen demand (COD), total suspended solid, pH level and ammoniacal nitrogen.

“The community is advised not to consume water directly from the river and the wells due to the relatively high COD, BOD and some metal contents,” said Fathiah.

The research also revealed that the aluminium content in the water samples were lower than the standard limit of 0.06mg/L (milligrams per litre).

She said the research, which began in 2019, was conducted in partnership with the Labis Che Thai Khor Moral Uplifting Association.

It was intended to analyse the quality of surface water at the selected sampling points.

Fathiah suggested periodic testing and monitoring to be conducted by the community with support from relevant partners.

For instance, she said that UM could further collaborate with the association to initiate a citizen science-based monitoring programme to promote community and stakeholder participation in water quality monitoring and increase water conservation awareness.

Bekok assemblyman Tan Chong said that tap water here is safe because it was treated at the water treatment plant before reaching homes.

Labis residents, he said, could consume tap water that had been filtered or boiled.

His concern was for villagers who still draw water from the well for drinking.

“Some Orang Asli villagers also take water from the river for consumption,” he said when contacted.

Tan said he would obtain a full report from UM and write to the relevant Johor executive councils and the Natural Resources and Environment Sustainability Minister to call for more action against pollution.

“I am aware that some irresponsible livestock and vegetable farmers, as well as business operators, are still dumping harmful substances such as pesticides, fertilisers and toxic chemicals as they please,” he added.

Referring to the 2006 incident in which 300 tonnes of aluminium dross was dumped near Kampung Sungai Gatom, he said:

“Even though it has been 18 years, the residents are traumatised till today. When many people became ill then, they put the blame on the water because Sungai Labis was one of the illegal dumping sites at the time,” he said.

To address the people’s concerns, the Che Thai Khor Moral Uplifting Society – of which Tan is the chairman – commissioned the research to examine the quality of the water sources in Labis.

He said he hopes the result of the study would put the people’s worries to rest.

When contacted, Johor tourism, environment, heritage and culture committee chairman K. Raven Kumar said he would look into the matter with the state environment department before determining the next course of action.

Labis, which is about a 30-minute drive from Segamat town, has a population of about 70,000.

In the old days, villagers would drink from the wells, but it is believed that only a small number of people still do so these days.

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