Perak MB heads task force on arsenic poisoning in Sungai Rui, freezes logging

Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu speaks to reporters in Ipoh April 10, 2019. — Picture by Farhan Najib
Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu speaks to reporters in Ipoh April 10, 2019. — Picture by Farhan Najib

IPOH, April 10 — The Perak government has formed a task force to investigate arsenic poisoning in Sungai Rui, Gerik that has raised cancer fears among residents.

The task force headed by Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu sat for the first time on March 25, following a report from the Department of Environment (DOE) and the state Security Council to the State Secretary on pollution in the river a week earlier.

Today, Ahmad Faizal said the pH level of Sungai Rui was on the high side.

He also confirmed the existence of heavy metals in the water, including arsenic.

“From studies conducted, arsenic appears naturally in Hulu Perak district. The higher content of arsenic in the river could be due to mining activities, soil erosion and farming,” he told a special news conference here.

Ahmad Faizal also announced a temporary suspension of all logging activities along Sungai Rui, even as he acknowledged that authorities have yet to find any direct link.

The suspension is estimated to cause at least RM30 million in losses to the state coffers.

Reports of arsenic in Sungai Rui waters and allegations of skin cancer developing among the nearby populace was highlighted on April 4 by Perak Education, Science, Environment and Green Technology Committee chairman Abdul Aziz Bari during a press conference.

Ahmad Faizal said it was still too early to conclude that arsenic poisoning of the riverwater is behind the residents’ skin ailments, based on the state Health Department’s observation and physical checks of villagers.

“The Health Department had checked Kampung Air Ganda villagers and they were found to be suffering from skin diseases and they were referred to the nearest health clinic in Hulu Perak for further checks,” he said.

He added that the department also took hair samples of 300 villagers to determine the cause of their skin diseases.

“I want to make it clear that actions have been taken once the matter was made known to the state.

“We were hush-hush over the matter initially, but sadly the wrong information was given,” he added.

He said the causes for cancer are many, citing smoking as one of the factors.

Ahmad Faizal also dismissed rumours that Aziz is trying to create widespread panic that would jeopardise his administration.

“No, no, no. He was acting as an exco in charge of the portfolio. When he got the information, he took action. He was not aware of our discussion in the exco meeting,” he said.

Ahmad Faizal then apologised publicly for any unintentional panic caused by the exco.

The mentri besar said he was in Tokyo, Japan when Aziz gave a statement to the media on the matter and did not know about it when it first emerged.

“I had a problem with my phone,” he replied when asked if Aziz had informed him of his plans to have a media conference regarding the pollution.