KUANTAN • Unregulated mining of bauxite for the extraction of prized aluminium in Pahang may be leaking radioactive material into parts of the Malaysian state, turning natural green waters to a deep, dark hue, according to local media.
In four water samples taken in Sungai Pengorak and Pantai Pengorak near Kampung Selamat north of Kuantan, bauxite residues were detected in an independent laboratory analysis commissioned by the New Straits Times (NST) newspaper.
Images showing waters that have been tainted red in these areas have been making their rounds on social media, triggering fears of heavy metal contamination.
Like most ores, bauxite contains traces of metals such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel and naturally-occurring radioactive materials, such as thorium and uranium, NST reported.
Last month, Pahang said it revoked the mineral ore licences of 34 contractors to curb rampant bauxite mining, due to concerns over rising pollution from the activity.
Only 11 operators with permission to mine, transport and export the mineral would now be allowed to operate in the state of Pahang starting this month, state news agency Bernama reported.
The state government took the step after contractors ignored multiple warnings on rampant pollution. Local residents have for a long time complained of red dust from bauxite mines contaminating the villages when lorries transport the mineral ore to the port, according to a Reuters report.
Villager Abdul Razak Ngah, 43, said the sea would be "stained red" with pollution each time there was heavy rain.
"There are hills of (bauxite) ore in the port area near our village. The wind will blow the red dust everywhere and when it rains, the water washes the dust down the drain and into the sea," he told The Star newspaper. "The sea gets so red sometimes that it is like a sea of blood."
However, Pahang Public Amenities and Environment Committee chairman Mohd Soffi Abdul Razak claimed in May that the changing water colour was not harmful to humans or marine life.
Bauxite mines have sprung up in Malaysia since late last year, notably in Pahang's state capital of Kuantan, an area along the east coast facing the South China Sea.
The mines have been shipping increasing amounts of bauxite for aluminium production to China, filling a gap created when Indonesia banned ore exports in January last year to encourage value-added processing at home.
Malaysia supplied 1.27 million tonnes of bauxite to China in the first nine months of last year, 12 times more than the 105,000 tonnes shipped in the same period for 2013.