August 28, 2015

Malaysian State Revokes Bauxite Mining Licenses to Curb Pollution

Malaysian State Revokes Bauxite Mining Licenses to Curb Pollution

Bauxite mining by Paul Morris @flickr

In reaction to rising concern over pollution caused by illegal Bauxite mining in Malaysia, the state of Pahang recently revoked the mineral ore licenses of 34 contractors.

Home to 1.5 million people, Pahang is a highly populous area that is also rich in Bauxite. The heavy metal is extracted in order to produce valuable aluminum, but without proper regulation by the government, the Bauxite mining process takes a heavy toll on the air quality and waterways of nearby communities and the surrounding environment.

Pahang has seen complaints about the red dust created during Bauxite mining become more and more urgent in recent years. The dust – containing traces of arsenic, lead, mercury and radioactive materials like thorium and uranium – pollutes water sources, causes throat and skin irritation, and can be very harmful if breathed. It is of much concern that the dust is flowing freely through Pahang communities.

Villager Abdul Razak Ngah, 43, said the sea would be “stained red” with pollution each time there was heavy rain.

“There are hills of (bauxite) ore in the port area near our village. The wind will blow the red dust everywhere and when it rains, the water washes the dust down the drain and into the sea,” he told The Star newspaper. “The sea gets so red sometimes that it is like a sea of blood.”

Last month, the Pahang government acted upon complaints like this and revoked the licenses of 34 Bauxite mining contractors in the state. This leaves only 11 licensed contractors in Pahang, constituting a big reduction in mining activity.

The towns nearby can now breathe easier, but the absence of Bauxite mining operations creates problems of its own.

Just as the pollution from unregulated Bauxite mining affects the surrounding community, so does the money it brings in. Local farmers, when offered settlements by Bauxite miners looking for land to extract from, usually dig up their plantations in order to facilitate the mining. When the miners’ licenses are revoked, those farmers are left with empty property and no money coming in from the Bauxite contractors.

Farming losses aside, the reduction in Bauxite mining is a good thing for Pahang. It’s also a victory for responsible government in Malaysia.

For decades, illegal Bauxite mining has been a major contributor to nationwide deforestation and pollution. That state governments are beginning to heed the cries of their communities bodes well for Malaysia’s natural environment as well.

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