Adopt drastic strategies to fight against river pollution

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On December 16, the Sungai Semenyih Water Treatment Plant (UTE) was shut down by Air Selangor – the national water supply management company – due to diesel odor pollution in the stream. Sungai Rinching (i.e. the tributary of the river). This incident caused water supply interruptions in 463 areas of Selangor and Putrajaya.

Currently, the police and other authorities, such as Air Selangor, the Selangor Water Management Authority (Luas), and the National Water Services Commission, have called on a factory owner to Dengkil to facilitate the investigation of this case under article 430 of the Penal Code (i.e. mischief by damage to irrigation works or by wrongly diverting water).

This is the third time that Sungai Semenyih has been infected this year. The first two incidents of pollution of the river occurred during the week of August 31 and September 3.

Last year, Rawang suffered severe river pollution after hazardous materials and waste were deliberately dumped into ditches and then into Sungai Gong. This incident affected a total of 1,292 areas in seven districts of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, involving approximately 1.2 million Air Selangor customers.

The pollution of rivers and the resulting water cuts did not only happen in Selangor. Sungai Kim Kim in Johor has suffered the worst pollution in the river due to the illegal dumping of chemical waste. This incident occurred in 2019, affecting 6,000 people, and 2,775 (mostly schoolchildren) were hospitalized.

According to the Department of the Environment (DoE), 195 rivers in Malaysia are lightly polluted and 34 are polluted. In Selangor, 30 rivers are slightly polluted, while three are polluted.

The main parameters used to detect river pollution are biological oxygen demand (BOD), ammoniacal nitrogen (AN) and suspended solids (SS).

BOD refers to the amount of oxygen needed to break down organic matter in water. The higher the BOD, the more organic pollutants there are in the water and the more serious the pollution.

AN is a measure of toxic pollutants (i.e. ammonia). This harmful contaminant can cause indirect damage to the aquatic environment through eutrophication (a process that increases nutrient levels and promotes the growth of algae).

SS are solid substances suspended in water, including organic and inorganic substances which are insoluble in water, silt, clay and microorganisms. The higher the SS, the less dissolved oxygen in the water is dissolved, which worsens the quality of the river water.

The DoE said the root cause of the high BOD could be attributed to inadequate treatment of wastewater or effluent from the food and manufacturing industries. Livestock farms and domestic sewage can be the main sources of AN, while poor earthworks and land clearing operations were the main causes of MES.

The sources identified by these parameters indicate that the people and businesses of Selangor are exposed to a relatively high risk of pollution of the river and its subsequent side effects (v. CAP as it stands.

Therefore, EMIR Research wishes to propose two radical strategies that are necessary to tackle the pollution of rivers to the federal and state governments of Selangor:

1. Constitutional changes to jurisdiction

Rivers and other natural resources fall under state jurisdiction. However, according to the Constitution of Malaysia of 1957, responsibility for water utilities, including water treatment works, rests with both the federal government and the state government (i.e. a concurrent obligation).

Currently, five laws are cited by federal and state judicial authorities when investigating cases of river water pollution and against polluters. That is to say the 1974 law on the quality of the environment [e.g. Sections 18(1), 19(a) and 25(1)], Penal Code (e.g. Articles 430 and 124K), Water Service Industry Act 2006 [e.g. Sections 61(1)(b) and 121], Local Government Act 1976 [e.g. Section 70(a)] and the promulgation of the Selangor Water Management Authority in 1999 [e.g. Sections 79(1) and 121(1)].

As for penalties, the maximum fine for water pollution violators under the Environmental Quality Act 1974 is RM500,000 or up to a jail term of up to go up to five years, or both.

According to the Water Services Industry Act 2006, the most important sanction for violators contaminated with water is a fine of up to RM500,000 or a maximum jail term of 10 years. or flogging, or all three.

In addition, the Selangor State Legislative Assembly passed the Selangor Water Management Authority (Amendment) Bill 2020 to increase the fine to a minimum of RM200,000 and up to 1 million RM, impose a mandatory prison sentence and force polluters to pay the cleaning fee in Luas. . Meanwhile, informants will be rewarded if they provide credible and reliable information about the pollution of rivers.

Nonetheless, the three river pollution incidents at Selangor this year show that current legal sanctions are insufficient to prevent or deter potential polluters from discharging sewage / effluent during operations. Further measures are needed to complement and supplement the pre-existing measures in order to strengthen deterrence.

Federal and state lawmakers should consider adding a legal clause to all laws relating to river pollution – for example, authorities are legally mandated to initiate civil lawsuits on behalf of affected or injured people (households or businesses) who had to suffer water cuts as a consequence, in order to seek financial compensation from the offender. Compensation can be placed in a fund for eligible applicants. This would come either in parallel or after the criminal prosecution of polluters.

In addition, federal and state governments should also have a legal obligation to provide free legal aid or legal services to households and businesses (i.e. micro, small and medium-sized businesses) to prosecute cases. polluters.

The legal clause will considerably increase the costs for polluters, thus further regulating their behavior in terms of wastewater / effluent discharge. When pecuniary claims are brought in civil proceedings, polluters will think twice about dumping pollutants into the river if the potential costs of the pollution are “overwhelming.”

Therefore, when the legal penalties are made proportional to the environmental “crime” committed, the people and businesses of Selangor will not have to worry about the losses resulting from the pollution problems of the rivers because the polluters will have to pay them.

2. Improve ground inspections

Selangor’s government announced a total allocation of RM 200 million in the 2021 state budget for river pollution mitigation efforts, including the application of an effluent discharge monitoring mechanism , the restoration of the water quality of Sungai Gong, 24-hour surveillance in critical areas and the project to pump raw water into the UTE to prevent the forced shutdown of operations when rivers are polluted.

In addition, the state government has allocated Ringgit 2 million to purchase four military drones for aerial surveillance of rivers in Selangor. Nonetheless, Datuk Ng Chok Sin, the chairman of MCA Selangor’s state liaison committee, questioned the effectiveness of these efforts.

“Considering that such a large amount of money had been allocated to protect rivers from pollution, why is Selangor still the state with the most water disturbances, on average twice a month? ” He asked.

To effectively and efficiently combat the pollution of rivers, the state government should consider establishing a database to collect the chemicals used by each industry and share the information among the relevant authorities.

Once the pollution of rivers has occurred, the authorities can directly search the database for potential polluters, thus reducing the scope of the investigations. This decision will speed up the process of finding the culprit (s).

In addition, River Watcher, an all-in-one automated water quality analyzer, is expected to be adopted along the rivers of Selangor. This system is important and impactful because it has successfully solved the water pollution problems in South Korea.

River Watcher’s functions include measuring 14 water quality parameters (e.g. BOD, AN and SS), periodic real-time data logging (e.g. every five, 30 and 60 minutes) and the activation of an alarm when a variation of the quality parameters is detected.

Currently, River Watcher is being tested in Sungai Galing, Pahang as part of a pilot project.

In the meantime, the federal government should allocate funds to expand the functions of River Watcher.

The Selangor government is also expected to allocate funds for the implementation of pilot projects to improve real-time and on-site detection activities, and odor analysis.

Overall, federal and state governments have shared / competing obligations to tackle pollution in rivers.

Jason Loh Seong Wei and Tan Tze Yong are part of the research team at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research. Comments: [email protected]


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