KUANTAN • Prolonged exposure to polluted water and red dust from bauxite mining can increase the risk of cancer, says an expert, warning that initial stages of radioactive contamination are evident in recent water samples taken in Pahang.
Residents of Kampung Selamat on the eastern coast of the Malaysian state, where there have been complaints about red water and red dust in the air, will suffer from the poor extraction, disposal and rehabilitation of the ore, Professor Che Abd Rahim Mohamed told the New Straits Times .
"As we breathe, residues from the bauxite will fill our lungs and create blockage, and can lead to cancer," said the geochemistry and marine radiochemistry expert.
The red dust can also pose a serious risk to marine life by, for instance, clogging the gills of fish and suffocating them.
Prof Rahim said the effects of over-exposure to the red dust that contains radioactive elements will be apparent only when the skin, respiratory system or genes are affected.
When the nutrient-rich run- offs from the bauxite enter waterways, a bloom of harmful microalgae will develop.
"Fish and other marine life will eat the toxic microalgae, causing them to be contaminated as well," Prof Rahim said.
"We have cases in Sabah and Kelantan where people were poisoned after eating marine life contaminated by microalgae bloom."
Bathing in waters with a high content of microalgae will cause itchiness, he said.
Water expert Zaki Zainudin said mining activities in the affected areas should be halted until the sources of pollution were plugged.
Kampung Selamat, near a port where bauxite is delivered, experiences red dust wafting through the air when the ore is unloaded.
Villager Faidah Jusoh, 47, said the dust has worsened her asthma and makes her skin itch.
"I have to go to the clinic at least three times a month to get my health checked," The Star quoted her as saying.
"It was not always like this. The ore transportation to the port only intensified over the past year."
She said she has to put up with the suffering as Kampung Selamat is her home.
"Where are we supposed to go?" she said.