Papan-Lahat - site of potential landfill

Papan Landfill urgent as Bercham fills up

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By James Gough

Implementation of Ipoh’s Solid Waste Sanitary Landfill located just north of Papan is becoming urgent as the one in Bercham is reaching maximum capacity. However, regulatory requirements set by various agencies have not been fulfilled as revealed by the State Department of Environment (DOE) office that a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study of the site has not been completed. Ipoh Echo conducted an investigation into the status of the proposed project.

Papan-Lahat - site of potential landfill

“The project would carry on even if it has to be modified” – UPEN

The proposed area for the Papan landfill is a vast and picturesque valley of disused mining ponds amidst lush greenery against a backdrop of the rolling hills of the Kledang Range. The ponds, filled with tilapia and patin fish are juxtaposed with cows and buffalo grazing the wild grass as one comes across abandoned farms of lemons, marrow, papaya, jack fruit and young oil palm trees. The farmers of these plots had abandoned their farms in early January this year after receiving eviction notices sent to them by the Batu Gajah District Office which gave them 14 days from December 28, 2011 to vacate their premises.

Helpless fish and cattle breeders

While the vegetable and fruit farmers harvested their crops and left, the fish and cattle breeders were left in a quandary. A total of 30 of these farmers and breeders who had been toiling their land from 5-21 years, all of them illegally, turned to their respective state assemblymen, YB Sivakumar (Tronoh) and YB Lim Pek Har (Menglembu) for help. Their only plea to Ipoh City Council was to allow them to continue to earn their livelihood at the same location or at least provide them an alternative site. Interestingly though is that several of these farmers have their plots located next to the Asian Rare Earth radioactive depository for many years and now due to the setting up of the future solid waste landfill, have to vacate their farms.

Papan with Asian Rare Earth in the background
Buffaloes grazing under the shadow of ARE Depository (the white hill in the background)

Asian Rare Earth Depository

The Asian Rare Earth Depository is a radioactive storage facility to store rare earth which was produced by Asian Rare Earth refinery (ARE) a Mitsubishi Chemicals company in the 80s. Its presence caused a sudden surge in leukaemia, birth defects and miscarriages to residents in that area. After much public pressure the plant was closed in 1992 and its waste of over 80,000 steel barrels was ‘entombed at a designated hilltop depository’. The entire clean-up is reported to have been completed in 2011. The monitoring of the ARE facility falls under the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB), the department that monitors and enforces nuclear activity in the country.

Papan Sanitary Landfill

The Papan Sanitary landfill came into existence in July 2008 during a state council meeting and was subsequently gazetted in October 2009. The site is located in between the towns of Papan and Lahat and covers an area of 560.24 acres or 226.73 hectares and was intended to be the next landfill site after Bercham which is just 96 acres in size.

Unlike Bercham which has a population of 125,712 residents and 158 housing estates within a 5km radius the new site has 53,516 residents and 34 housing estates within the same radius.

Bercham landfill reaching maximum capacity
Bercham Landfill

Based on its location and size the site would accept solid waste from the Districts of Ipoh, Batu Gajah, Kampar and Central Perak. The lifespan of the landfill is projected to last 35 years.

The new facility is classified as a Level 4 sanitary landfill site and its infrastructure includes facilities for system leachate collection, controlled collection and release of methane gas, facilities to wash and clean the garbage transport trucks and have a daily closing or intermediate cover to prevent odour. Ipoh City Council has last November appointed Selekta Spectra Sdn Bhd as the concessionaire for the project who will also build and operate the facility.

EIA Report

At its preliminary stage, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (MHLG) appointed a consultant to carry out the Department of Environment’s (DOE) Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study.

Map of Papan-Lahat landfill
Map of Papan-Lahat landfill

During the course of the study the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB), the department that monitors the Asian Rare Earth radioactive depository, raised its objection, saying the landfill site was located well within the 1.7km buffer zone from the ARE Depository explaining that no development should take place within the buffer zone. A review of the site map of the facility confirmed that two-thirds of the landfill site was well within the buffer zone.

This being the case, Dato’ Chor Chee Huang, the Minister of Housing and Local Government (MHLG), announced last June that since two-thirds of the site could not be utilised for the landfill the project was ‘not viable for a long-term project’ and subsequently ‘aborted’ the project. The Ministry subsequently wrote an official letter several months later informing the Perak State Government that it had dropped the project.

MBI Takes Over Project

When MHLG aborted the project Ipoh City Council (MBI) took over the project  and proceeded to implement the landfill project.

At the initial stage to start our report Ipoh Echo approached Ipoh City Council for a copy of the site map and discovered that indeed the landfill location was within the 1.7km ARE buffer zone.

A subsequent check with the Director of AELB, Raja Dato’ Abdul Aziz, verified that the map in question was the same which the Board had based its objections on. Abdul Aziz also clarified that “the buffer zone is 2km in radius. However, since it encroached onto the Lumut Highway, the Board reduced the buffer zone to 1.7km”.

Ipoh Mayor, Dato’ Roshidi, when asked about the restriction for the buffer zone, seemed unsure about the buffer zone although he responded that the “Council would strictly follow the regulation for the setting up of the landfill site.” Roshidi further added that his main concern was to alleviate the problem of the 150,000 residents living close to the Bercham dumpsite. Similarly, Dato’ Abu Bakar, the Director of the State Economic Planning Unit (UPEN) also responded that the project would “carry on even if it has to be modified”.

EIA Study Not Completed

A check with the State Department of Environment (DOE) office revealed that should MBI change its plans in any way, a new EIA was needed. A spokesman for the DOE however stated that a detailed EIA for the site was not done. The EIA initiated earlier by the Housing and Local Government Ministry was aborted when just at the Terms of Reference (TOR) stage, at four months instead of the usual nine months.

The spokesman added that “a detailed EIA report for a sanitary landfill is very important because the landfill discharges a lot of pollutants”. The spokesman further added that “per DOE regulations no work can be carried out at the site until the EIA is approved. Should any work take place prior to EIA approval, DOE can take the appropriate action.”

Just before going to press, Ipoh Echo reconfirmed the above findings with Mayor Roshidi who acknowledged accordingly and again reiterated that the Council would comply fully to all the required regulations.

Undoubtedly the implementation of the new sanitary landfill at Papan is important and now made more critical as the Bercham dumpsite is also full. Considering the close proximity of a solid waste landfill next to a radioactive depository, it is assuring to note that the relevant authorities are aware of the sensitive location of the site and will ensure all the regulatory requirements are fulfilled before the start of landfill operations.

6 thoughts on “Papan Landfill urgent as Bercham fills up

  1. The landfill at Papan is producing a stench which is affecting the folk in Old Papan.

    The people in Papan feel helpless: the politicians have failed them, and the City has failed them. The landfill is giving them nothing but stinking rotten smell to suffer all day, all night. Will they be victims to air-borne diseases as well?

    From the access road, the Papan Landfill is a sheet-metal barricaded area, gated. Behind this is a big heap of rubbish 5 metres high. The decomposing, rotting rubbish is turned up and over by excavators, and the stench is carried, channelled by the surrounding hills to Old Papan and Tamboi (Pusing), where thousands of people live.

    Landfill does not work, certainly not the method being used by this contractor.

    A solution must be found quickly. The people of Papan cannot continue to be the scapegoat to errant governmental decisions.

  2. There is a real problem with garbage disposal. Usually it’s apathy on people’s part that’s why the litter everywhere – no excuse lack of dustbins can’t you keep it first and then dispose.

    Some separation of the types of garbage has to be done by residents which is then collected by municipal now easier with the separation. This could be an issue too.

    Judging by the rate of expansion of towns and cities there is no way out but with an incinerator fitted with ultra efficient filtration so less toxins like dioxin are release. We can talk till the cows come home

    To be realistic, some pollution is inevitable unless there are no cars, industries,movement of people which cause the ensuing pollution with use of machines, cars, etc. Your house is a health hazard with gadgets aplenty, TVs & sofa sets and some groups want telco towers to taken down and when experience poor reception will complain the most. It has been said everything that men invented is destructive

    Come on there is a pro and con to any issue, unless you want to live in a jungle. Compromise is called for otherwise the I am wiser and smarter than you attitude will only destroy rather than help.

    And why not you do it if others don’t want to?

  3. As reported above there is now a 1.7km buffer zone for the ARE depository instead of 2.0km. I assume having a buffer zone means no housing within this 1.7km!

    I travelled daily from Ipoh to Seri Iskandar (A5 Ipoh Lumut )and I saw land and hill being cleared opposite shell petrol station (between Menglembu – Papan) which is inside the 1.7km buffer zone. The noticeboard indicates housing development.

    It would be nice if Ipoh echo could highlight this matter in the coming Ipoh Echo as well as the relevant authority.

  4. Steven is correct. Any existing landfill can be recovered using modern technology. In 2010, an environment-focused NGO based in Ipoh had demonstrated to MBI the effectiveness of using microbial biotechnology to remediate landfills and rivers, resolving social issues like odor and leachate, and removing harmful landfill gases. The land is treated and can be safely used for other development. The offer to MBI is still open.

  5. Thanks for the report, James.

    It is sad that such delayed action will be taken to stop the stench now fouling the air and affect the residents in Bercham. There may be less people living near the new dump, but the place is imminently unsuitable for this land-use as rubbish dump, leacheate.

    There is no Environmental Impact Study to validate this land-use; the proposed land-use illegal. The Federal Government has already rejected it way back in June last year. The problem of rubbish disposal in Ipoh has been brewing for years. That’s an issue of town planning.

    There are some thirty farmers in the area who will lose their crops and animals, some already have since the letter was issued to evict the land. Some of them have been farming for over thirty years, since the last tin mine closed, making idle land productive. Their protests in Papan and Lahat have not been reported in the English medium newspapers.

    And what will happen to the Forest Reserve and within it, the youth camp facilities for some two hundred youths, and the cool Sungai Papan where locals would swim and picnic and friends and families enjoy quality time? The rubbish dump will ruin this forever. The ‘Papan Waterfall’ was known more than 100 years ago. There is historic photographs of people enjoying the cool mountain stream and its cascades.

    The chosen site is a beautiful historic valley, Kong Mui, Papan, whose water-bodied environment is enjoyed by bird watchers and people who walk for exercise in clean air. The channelled air flow in the valley means that foul air will affect the residents in Papan and Pusing. Kong Mui is one of the richest tin fields ever; now, stripped of its underground valuable deposits, it is banished to become a rubbish dump for not only Ipoh but adjacent districts. Be aware of rubbish trucks hawking the highway leading to the dump. Why should rubbish be transported to a centralised dump in Kong Mui? Papan is the best documented historic town (now downgraded to village) with an long history and a formidable heritage which both international and local tourists have found fascinating and charming.

    This is error in planning. There is no need for a big vast centralised dump. Each sub-district must handle its own rubbish. This is the only way to encourage residents to mind their rubbish in a environmental-conscious way. And as suggested by Steven, a green method must be used. We must take note of LA21, in planning for a green future.

    If only to relief the people in Bercham, the designated phase one must proceed.

    New solutions must be found quickly before an entire area gets dumped with everybody else’s rubbish, while Papan residents are not even regularly collected. Ultimately, Papan will be made unattractive and that will be the loss of Ipoh, Kinta, Perak and Malaysia. A better solution has to be found quickly. We urge MBI reconsider while restricting the use at the dump. The people living in Papan and Pusing count.

    Meanwhile, why don’t you go enjoy the tranquail serenity of this beauty before it is lost to bad planning, and illegal at that?

  6. There are many methods of disposing rubbish (in official terms, called “Municipal Solid Wastes” or MSW). Landfill is among the least efficient methods because MSW is not really disposed but merely buried out-of-sight. Slow decomposition of MSW will take decades. At the same time, toxic leachate and the greenhouse gas methane are produced, damaging the environment.

    A sanitary landfill is not cheap either. Money is needed to build it, to operate it and even when it is finally shut down, money is still needed to monitor it, in case of leachate leaked through the impermeable layer. All the while, methane is emitted.

    A better alternative would be to use the MSW in a waste-to-energy method, for example, biomass. Besides disposing the MSW, recyclables (metal, glass, plastic) are recovered, and energy is produced. In the biomass method, leftover organic mass may also be made into organic fertilizer.

    The best news is that MBI and the state government don’t even have to spend a single sen. The investor will cover all the costs for the disposal plant and operations.

    But MBI decided to build a sanitary landfill that costs tens of million, and need more money to operate. The proposed sanitary landfill will be 100 acres, a lot of land to “waste”. A biomass plant, recycling plant and storage area by comparison take up a quarter of the space. The plants can be demolished when no longer needed and land used for other purposes.

    The landfill must be located away from human population for sanitary reasons. Also, who would want to stay near the landfill? But this also means that garbage trucks have to travel further, using more fuel and wearing out tyres. More money spent and more damage to the environment.

    As for the existing landfill at Bercham, a biomass plant can be built nearby and slowly dispose of all the accumulated garbage. At the end of the day, the land can be rehabilitated much earlier for economic development. If the garbage is not processed, it will take decades before anything can be done on the land. In the meantime, toxic leachate continue to contaminate the water table and nearby water sources.

    While the ozone-damaging methane is being captured at the existing landfill, the accumulated garbage won’t go away anytime soon. Using it in a biomass project accelerates the methane capture and slowly reduces the amount of garbage until it is all gone. No more garbage, no more bad smell, no more leachate. Isn’t his better than just covering up the landfill?

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