Malaysia calls for permanent closure of farm that polluted Johor River, blacklists operators

Pipes used to transport water from the Johor River Waterworks to Singapore.
Pipes used to transport water from the Johor River Waterworks to Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has called for the permanent shut down of a chicken farm that was producing fertiliser from chicken droppings, after it allowed ammonia from the fertiliser to pollute Johor River, resulting in water supply disruption to 1.8 million users.

In a press statement issued on Monday (Oct 30), the ministry expressed “great disappointment” over the closure of three water treatment plants in Kulai and Kota Tinggi in Johor due to the ammonia pollution, which hit water supply to about 600,000 people. 

The ministry said it takes a “very serious view when illegal factories and farms pollute our waterways and environment for their own gain”.

The ministry has also asked for authorities such as the Kulai Municipal Council, Kulai Land and District Office and the Veterinary Services Department to “look into this matter seriously and expeditiously in order to prosecute the chicken farm owners for jeopardising the lives and livelihood of 600,000 people in the vicinity to the full extent of existing laws and enforce based on their jurisdiction”.

It has also called for the operators to be blacklisted in order to prevent them from forming other companies which will potentially cause harm to people and the environment. 

Furthermore, it will seek to enact laws requiring chicken farms and fertilizer manufacturers to apply for permits and be subject to a set of regulations and penalties in the event of failure to compy. 

Water treatment plants in Johor are now operating at close to normal capacity and are expected to resume full operations on Monday, as the ammonia levels in Johor River stabilise, Johor State Minister for Public Works Hasni Mohammad said.

When asked if the water supply has resumed, Datuk Hasni told The Straits Times that the supply to consumers should normalise in a few days, as it will take up to 48 hours for treated water to reach their taps. 

Water supply to 1.8 million taps in Johor was disrupted over the weekend after high levels of ammonia were detected in the Johor River. 

 
 

On Sunday, Johor identified a poultry farm and a factory in the Kota Tinggi district that converts manure into fertiliser as the source of the pollution, and ordered them to shut down.

Ammonia level of 2.75 parts per million (ppm) recorded late Friday night remained until 4.30pm on Saturday, nearly double the Health Ministry's permitted level of 1.5ppm.

The Johor River is a major source of drinking water for the state, with the river draining into the Johor Strait north of Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong. Singapore draws up to 250 million gallons of raw water a day from the river, under a 1962 agreement with Malaysia, which expires in 2061.