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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.