Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Bauxite mining sites can rehabilitated in 2 years, says expert

Pahang's bauxite mining areas can be rehabilitated within a relatively short period of two years if proper techniques are used to restore the land's soil and mineral structure, according to an expert in erosion and sedimentation control. Malaysian Stormwater Organisation vice-president Datuk Ahmad Fuad Embi said he believed that the almost 1,200 hectares of land ravaged by unregulated bauxite mining activities in Bukit Goh, Kuantan could be salvaged in the near future through the adoption of effective remedial procedures. "Even the oil palm plantations (which have been turned into bauxite mining sites by the landowners) can be resuscitated and replanted within a period of two years," he told Bernama on the sidelines of a forum on sustainable mining in Kuala Lumpur recently. Asked to comment on reports that it would take many years to rehabilitate the bauxite mines in Pahang, Fuad replied: "I believe the land can be restored in two years if it (remedial process) is done correctly. We have to try... if we don't try, we won't know." The former deputy director-general of the Drainage and Irrigation Department said if the land concerned was left barren, any remaining loose soil would be subject to continuous erosion, leaving behind only "rocky ground devoid of any material for vegetation growth, plus a scarred landscape with vertical slopes and ridges". "Do we want to leave 1,200ha of land looking like that? It will resemble a rocky desert because no plant will grow on it if the land is not rehabilitated... unless we want to wait for some 50 years for it to be naturally restored," he said. Top soil Mining of bauxite, which is used in aluminium production, had surged in Pahang from mid-2014 due to high demand from China after Indonesia banned bauxite exports. Last year, there was a public outcry after the waters in the sea and some rivers in Kuantan turned red, apparently due to contamination by the mining activities. The government has imposed a three-month moratorium, beginning January 15 this year, during which all bauxite mining activities would be halted in Pahang. Fuad said a vital aspect of the ex-mining land's rehabilitative process would be to reinstate the top soil which, most likely, would have been decimated when excavations were carried out to mine bauxite. If the land was devoid of the top layer of soil, then bio components like compost and mulch must be used to resuscitate the land's soil conditions and maximise nutrients, he said. Earthworks like bunds or drains must also be built to contain any run-offs from the land undergoing rehabilitation, he explained, adding that the ground would also have to be levelled before the ecosystem could be completely restored. "Grass or any other plants (suited to the soil conditions) can be grown first before the land is replanted with trees," he said. Expensive Admitting that the rehabilitation process would be a tedious and costly affair, Fuad said the government should get the landowners and mining companies involved to foot the bill. "It's unfair to use public funds to rehabilitate the land... since the landowners allowed their land to be used for the mining operations, then it's only fair that they pay for the rehabilitation. "There are reports that some landowners were paid up to RM1 million by the miners, so why can't they fork out RM50,000 to restore their own piece of land?" Fuad also stressed on the need for the government to introduce an erosion and sedimentation control plan in order to regulate the bauxite industry. Such a plan, he said, would entail bauxite-laden lorries to only travel on designated gravelled roads, as well as mineral stockpiles to be transferred to the loading port through conveyor belts. Mining areas should also have buffer zones comprising trees or other types of vegetation, and sediment ponds to catch run-offs from the land, he added. Meanwhile, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Faculty of Chemical Engineering lecturer Prof Dr Maketab Mohamad, who presented a working paper at the forum, said the bauxite mining sites would continue to pollute the surrounding areas as long as they remained barren. "Rainwater from the mining areas can pollute the rivers nearby and the sea as well and their levels of heavy metal elements will increase. Bioaccumulation over 10 to 15 years can have an adverse impact on the food chain, including fish and shellfish. He said it was important to regularly test raw water samples from the areas located in the vicinity of the bauxite mines in order to analyse the heavy metal content. "To do the analysis, more sophisticated equipment must be used so that the amount (of heavy metals) can be indicated in parts per trillion (ppt), instead of parts per million (ppm) as is the current practice," he said, adding that both sea and freshwater fish and shellfish should also be subject to monthly tests. Too short United Nations University-International Institute for Global Health fellow researcher, Prof Dr Jamal Hisham Hashim, who also participated in the forum, said the three-month moratorium on bauxite mining was too short to make any difference to the areas that have been exposed to bauxite pollution for almost two years. He said the residents' health would also have to be taken into consideration as the bauxite mines were not situated in remote areas, with some even being located in the local people's backyards. Jamal said heavy metal elements inside the fine dust caused by bauxite mining could be absorbed into the body through inhalation and they could also pollute river systems and even water treatment plants. "We're lucky that the pollution level had not been that serious; neither have toxic elements been found in our drinking water. But this can change as some things are beyond our control. "If we allow the pollution to continue, then conditions may become more hazardous... that's why we need to look at rehabilitation (of the mining areas) and undo what has been done," he said. – Bernama, February 25, 2016.]]>

No comments:

Post a Comment