An environmental action group is perplexed that the Pahang Department of Environment's (DOE) benchmark for permissible levels of hydrogen cyanide (HCN) exposure for a school in Bukit Koman, is more than twice the average permitted for industrial operations.
The benchmark, the group claimed, was clearly displayed on a DOE board next to a monitoring station that measured the presence of the hazardous gas at the Yuh Wah National Type Chinese School, one kilometer away from a local gold mining operation.
The Ban Cyanide Action Committee (BCAC) said that their observations found that the DOE-set permissible level was 10 parts per million by volume (ppm).
In contrast, the group claims that the national occupational safety and health standards for permissible HCN was half that, at 4.7ppm for an eight hour work shift.
"This is a residential area, the standards should at least be ten times less than industrial standards," said chemical expert and BCAC advisor Tan Ka Kheng at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur today.
He also pointed out that in industrial operations, the exposure was limited in time, with only a maximum of eight hours per shift, per day on average, sixteen hours at most if you work double shift.
"But these are people who get paid to work in hazardous environment. You get paid to do so, not citizens who have to live there 24 hours."
The group also compared standards used by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as by other countries that set permissible levels for such dangerous fumes - such as 0.03 in the United States and 0.009 in the Czech Republic.
According to its monitoring of the DOE measurements, BCAC said that levels measured at the school ranged from 0.5 to 0.8ppm on average, measured for 15-hours each day, with the highest recorded level at 1.11ppm.
They posit that the levels would be worse at residential areas nearer to the mine.
They posit that the levels would be worse at residential areas nearer to the mine, and point out that the levels recorded at the school itself is already way higher than is permissible in other jurisdictions.
BCAC and other Bukit Koman residents are engaged in a prolonged battle with the operators of the gold mine near their homes, as they are claiming that the fumes released from gold extraction operations are the cause behind chronic health problems that began to surface soon after the mine started operations using the new extraction technique which released the toxic HCN gas.
The Australian-based miner has, however, disputed all allegations and has brought their accusers to court over the matter.
Malaysiakini has emailed the Pahang Department of Environment (DOE) for their response and is awaiting their reply.