By Shannon Teoh
KUALA LUMPUR, March 30 — Cheah Kok Leong, the son of a worker at the Asian Rare Earth (ARE) plant in Bukit Merah, Ipoh, died last night, 30 years after being born with congenital defects his mother blamed on radioactive exposure.
His mother, Lai Kwan, had claimed she was pregnant with Cheah when working at the plant which was shuttered in 1992 due to public pressure over claims of radiation poisoning.
Dr Jayabalan A. Thambyappa, a toxicologist who worked with Bukit Merah residents after they blamed the refinery for birth defects and eight leukaemia cases within five years, confirmed the death when contacted by The Malaysian Insider this morning.
Seven of the leukaemia victims in the community of 11,000 have also died.
But radiation regulator Atomic Energy Licensing Board has said it is unlikely that Lai’s child was born mentally retarded because of her exposure to radiation as nerve tissue is the most resistant to radiation.
Although there is no concrete proof that the plant, which is still undergoing a RM300 million cleanup exercise, contributed to Cheah’s condition, his death will likely add fuel to protests against another rare earths plant being built in Kuantan.
Lynas Corp has insisted its RM2.3 billion plant is safe with only low-level radiation waste being produced that the Australian miner says it will recycle into commercial products.
MORE TO COME