How palm oil mill effluents kill a river
Published on: Sunday, August 05, 2012
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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TAKE dissolved oxygen out of the water of a river, all aerobic fish, prawns and other aquatic life, will die. The simplest way to make Sabah's rivers oxygen-starved is to give all the 123 palm oil mills in Sabah the unfettered right to dump their effluents into our rivers.

The purpose of this article is to show how that happens and alert Sabahan to recognise the ugly face of palm oil mill effluents.

After it has emptied out all the dissolved oxygen, anaerobic bacteria take over and turn the river into a foul smelling torrent of toxic water filled with deadly chemicals: ammonia and hydrogen sulphide!

If a stream, creek or river is relatively small, palm oil mill effluents (Pome) will kill it swiftly, turning it into a dead zone overnight!

A bigger river like the Kinabatangan may be able to take more abuse but the death knell or the day of reckoning will come surely without a shadow of doubt, if this criminal environmental behaviour is allowed to go on and on as if there is no government in Sabah.

Photographs have shown Pome had accumulated downstream in relatively calmer waters of mangrove forests downstream of east coast rivers, like Sungei Pang Burong, Kaumpang etc, snuffing out once abundant coastal fisheries.

Inside Sabah, angry poor villagers in Sook and Keningau had told us in no uncertain terms the onslaught of Pome all of a sudden wiped out their fresh water fish tagal system, clean water for drinking, cooking, bathing, gardening, irrigation and livestock!

That's what palm oil mill effluents will do and has done to once healthy, robust pristine rivers across Sabah.

In other words, Sabah is losing its most vaunted rivers to the purported supreme economic importance of the oil palm industry.

Serious issue or not?

Very serious!

People won't tolerate that for too long.

However mighty and important the oil palm industry rates itself to be, they are ultimately micro economic production units dedicated overwhelmingly to profit, which is known for excesses if there is no one to regulate that to safeguard public interest.

The government, on the other hand, is a macro economic master designed to encourage not only productive economic activities to feed the needs of the people but most importantly, regulate misbehaviour at the micro economic level to safeguard stability and essential resources of the country.

The Plantation and Commodity Ministry for instance cannot speak and act as though it is part of industry.

It must keep a clear boundary between the regulator and the regulated so that while it encourages the industry to produce strong incomes for the country, it must exercise firm discipline against obviously destructive conduct upon the industry at all times.

That also applies to the Department of Environment which is mandated with the legal clout to check the discharge of industrial wastes such as Pome.

Similarly, all other State agencies such as the DID, Land Office, EPD, Agriculture Department, Department of Town and Regional Planning must not forget they are regulatory authorities mandated to safeguard the State's welfare and natural resources. They need to take the stick out when micro economic behaviour show their wilful ugly excesses.

So, if the oil palm industry acts as though they can do anything they like, as much as to use Sabah's rivers big and small as their open sewers, the State and Federal Governments better get out there to crack the whip against that arrogant thinking that underestimates the understanding of the common folks and undermines the trustworthiness of both levels of government!

And that is only cow sense.

Every body, from illiterates to the most educated to guest visitors from around the world, expect them to do that basic job.


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