Saturday, February 21, 2009

Local fish and shrimps okay, Belaga people assured

BINTULU: People living within the Bakun catchment area, Sungai Murum, Batang Balui and Belaga town, as well as Sungai Tiau in Baleh have been told not to worry about the condition of local fish and shrimps.

The Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) andn Chemistry Department have studied the fish and shrimps that died by the thousands on at least two previous occasions.

The sight of the floating fish had caused some degree of trepidation among the local people early this month.

Assistant Minister of Environment Dr Abang Abdul Rauf Abang Zen while inspecting the locations in Bakun and Murum rivers said the fish and shrimps were not poisoned.

“After the incident, the people got worried and asked why the fish and shrimps were dead and floating in the rivers.

“I want to make it clear that the incident was due to heavy accumulation of silt on the gills which suffocated and killed the fish,” he said.

He explained that the levels of total suspended solids (TSS) tiny particles of eroded soil or organic matter- and turbidity were very high; in fact, more than six times that of the Class IIB standard of 50 parts per million (ppm).

This was clearly evidenced by the heavy accumulation of silt on the gills which suffocated the fish, he said.

The NREB, according to him, received three reports on Sungai Murum (upstream of the Bakun Hydroelectric Dam project) on Dec 31 2008; the Sungai Tiau in Baleh on Jan 10 2009; and the stretch of Batang Balui between the Bakun HEP dam and Belaga town of Feb 10.

A similar report on fish and shrimps floating in Sungai Tatau was received on Feb 11, said Rauf.

“Upon receiving these reports, the NREB dispatched an investigation team and took the water samples at various points of the rivers,” he said.

The officers were equipped with in-situ water sampling equipment, and they tested the water for a number of physio-chemical parameters such as pH, temperature, salinity, conductivity, turbidity and dissolved oxygen.

They also took water samples and sent then to the Chemistry Department to check on the other important parameters like the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and the Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD).

“From these investigations, except for the suspended solids or turbidity, the other readings were normal and were within Class IIB of the National Water Quality Standards of Malaysia (NWQSM),” Rauf pointed out.

The NREB took seven dead fish and three dead prawns on Feb 10 and found there was no common organophophorous pesticides and no common organochlorine pesticide in them.

In the case of Sungai Tatau, he said the physio-chemical parameters such as pH, temperature, salinity and turbidity readings were normal and within the Class IIB standard of the NWQSM.

The amount of dissolved oxygen (DO), however, was found to be very low probably due to the heavy decomposition of vegetative materials submerged during the flood, compounded by the slow flowing water when the water subsided after the flood.

“In all cases, I wish to allay the fears of the general public that based on all these investigations, there were no indications of any presence of chemicals or poisons in these rivers,” said Rauf.

He urged all parties to contact the NREB if further clarification was needed, particularly on its functional jurisdiction and what it had done and planned to do, to safeguard the environment before giving any statement in the press.

The state NREB controller of environment quality, Dr Penguang Manggil; assistant controller (enforcement) Dania Goded Goyog; Department of Chemistry director, Halmi Ahmad and Belaga assemblyman Liwan Lagang were among those who accompanied Rauf during the inspection trip.

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