IPOH, May 25 — Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) has expressed shock over Perak’s approval for a lanthanide rare-earth mining project in Hulu Perak, which previously had its environmental impact assessment (EIA) rejected by the Department of Environment (DoE).

SAM president Meenakshi Raman also accused Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Saarani Mohamad of being misleading with his claim that state authorities would measure the level of radiation from the “pilot project” there.

This was because the EIA already showed the presence of thorium in the soil samples from the site that were tested, she said.

“Already the naturally occurring radioactive Thorium (Th-228) of tested soil sample from the land owned by Perbadanan Pembangunan Pertainian Negeri Perak (PPPNP)/ land parcel PT1764 is reported to be above the regulated 1 Bq/g.

“Any uncontrolled accidental release of reactants (e.g., sulfuric acid) during set-up and operations could have catastrophic consequences,” she said in statement.

On May 23, Saarani said that state government has secured the DoE’s approval to commence with the pilot project, after receiving the EIA report.

He said lanthanide was a more valuable resource than tin as the rare-earth element could be used to products such as smartphones, watches, and electronics

Today, Meenakshi said project would directly harm surrounding communities and jeapordise their access to drinking water.

“The project will be using ammonium sulphate as the key chemical, and the groundwater modelling result already showed high risk of ammonium and sulphate contamination in Well 2 and 3 used by plantation PPPNP and FELCRA within the proposed mining area,” she explained.

She said another concern was the possible contamination of rivers, which are an important water source for the local communities at nearby settlements mainly Kampung Pong and Kampung Orang Asli Bukit Asu, who also depend on the these for fishing and recreation.

“We understand that the project is located in the headwaters of the Sungai Rui, a tributary of Sungai Perak. Therefore, any degradation of the surface water or groundwater resulting from the proposed mining could affect the whole or a very large portion of these watersheds and their ecosystems,” she added.

She also pointed out that rare earth project would take place at a the Central Forest Spine (CFS) range that has been classified as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) Rank 1, meaning it was of extreme importance to the surroundings.

“Approving such mining activity in an ESA Rank 1 ecosystem is most outrageous, and in violation of the federal government’s own planning policy and can in no way be viewed as a sustainable activity.

“In particular, the proposed activity has a high risk of increasing the concentration of ammonium and thorium, which is a radioactive substance in the existing environment,” she said.

“SAM had opposed the proposed project precisely for this reason when we submitted our comments to the DOE in August last year,” she added. Meenakshi also reminded the authorities that Perak is already home to a radioactive permanent waste facility in the Kledang Range that contains dangerous and harmful wastes of thorium and uranium, inherited from the notorious Asian Rare-Earth (ARE) plant that operated in Bukit Merah, Ipoh during the mid-1980s to 1990s.

“These wastes will remain radioactive for billions of years and pose high risks already to the people of Perak,” she said.

She also said the radioactive poisoning in Bukit Merah has led to deaths among children who suffered from leukaemia and cancer, children with elevated levels of lead in their blood and above normal rates of miscarriages among pregnant women.

“Just adding the word ‘sustainable’ to rare-earth mining and processing does not make an inherently dangerous and risky activity safe, especially if we are talking about radioactive thorium and uranium wastes that remain hazardous in the environment for generations to come,” she said.

She urged the Perak MB and DoE to explain how the EIA was approved despite the concerns raised and to publish public objections and feedback to the project, including from SAM.

“SAM calls on the Perak state government not to proceed with this proposed mining activity and earn the reputation of the state with toxic facilities for generations to come. “Putting profits before the health and environment is contrary to sustainable development and allowing such risky activity in an environmentally sensitive area is most irresponsible,” she added.