KUALA LUMPUR: Residents of Raub, Pahang, accompanied by a chemical engineer, claimed that the Department of Environment (DOE) began testing on Jan 3 and detected hydrogen cyanide in the air at the controversial goldmine located at Bukit Koman.
According to a board put up by the DOE at SJK(C) Yuh Wah, located 1km from the goldmine, residents said the highest recorded amount of pollutant was 1.11 parts per million (ppm) on Jan 12 and Jan 20 while the average was between 0.5 to 0.8ppm.
"No data ever showed zero (levels of hydrogen cyanide)," said Ban Cyanide Action Committee (BCAC) member Tan Hui Chun who has claimed that the carbon leeching process used by the mine has exposed nearby residents to cyanide.
She said that while readings were taken 1km from the plant, some Kampung Bukit Koman residents lived only 200m from the mine and criticised the 10ppm maximum permissible level stipulated by the DOE.
"The Occupational Safety and Hazard Act (Osha) level is 4.7ppm and it is ridiculous for residents to be exposed (to any level of hydrogen cyanide) 24 hours a day," said Hui Chun.
Chemical and Environmental Engineering Prof Tan Kah Kheng said the limit set by OSHA was for employees who were being compensated for the exposure they experienced.
"Typically, for a non-work environment, it is 10 times less than the (Osha) permitted levels," he said, adding that workers would only be exposed to hazardous chemicals for eight hours a day.
"As a professional, I wouldn't say they have to close the plant, but they must contain the gas or stop operations," he said.
Kah Kheng said it was possible to clean the air of hydrogen cyanide by tenting the facility and passing the air through a scrubber.
"It's not expensive to destroy cyanide, but I don't know why they (the mine operators) aren't doing it."
Raub resident and Selayang councillor Tengku Zulpuri Shah Raja Puji questioned the location chosen by the DOE to run their tests.
"Why place the indicator 1km from the plant? Why not place it closer?" asked Zulpuri.
DOE director general Halimah Hassan, when contacted, asked for time to prepare a response.