It is vital for polluting industries to be sited away from human settlements as it is clear from the recent Sungei Kim Kim episode and other cases where communities living close to industries suffer from ill health and harm due to chemicals and other hazardous substances emitting from such industries.
It is true that prior to October 2017, the Department of Environment (DOE) had some guidelines on this called the 2012 Guidelines for Siting and Zoning of Industry and Residential Areas (SZIRA). Under this Guideline, the general guide for the buffer zone between heavy industries and residential areas was a minimum of 300 m or more and actual buffer zones were to be set based on modelling studies. Depending on the type of industries, the minimum buffer zone could be more such as for e.g. for manufacture of chemicals could be between 500 m to 600 m, and the final buffer zone was to be determined by modelling studies.
It is to be noted that these guidelines were meant as a guide for planning authorities, including the local authorities and project owners in their consideration of the site selection for industries in relation to residential areas. They were also applicable in the consideration of approvals for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) by the DOE.
In fact, on a query by SAM to the DOE regarding these guidelines in 2018, we were informed that the determination of the exact buffer zone for industries and monitoring in this regard is vested with the local authorities, who are responsible for approving any development plans under the Town and Country Planning Act 1976.
We were informed that the 2017 Environmental Essentials for Siting of Industries in Malaysia (EESIM) was what needs to be referred to and that this ‘guidance document’ does not specify the distances and the buffer zones between industries and residential areas as this was under the purview of the local authority.
We are aware that the local councils in Selangor abide by the Selangor State Manual Guideline and Planning Standard 2016.
It is indeed unfortunate that the Selangor Manual allows for shorter distances of 300 m buffer for heavy industries and 150 m for medium industries.
This is indeed regrettable as our experience has shown that such short distances are not effective to stem public health and harm as well as public nuisance to communities living nearby.
SAM has received several major complaints from communities who have been protesting against polluting factories such as that in the district of Kuala Langat from paper recycling plants as well as from communities in Kampung Jenjarom also in Kuala Langat who have been fighting a lead-acid battery plant here. These communities have complained of illegal discharges of waste effluents from the factory and are also concerned of emissions from the paper recycling plants when it is in full operation. Cumulative exposure to environmental pollutants will have detrimental effects on the health of the nearby communities, especially children, the elderly and vulnerable population.
It is time for the Selangor Town and Country Planning Department to review the manual and impose bigger distances in terms of the buffer zones required and use the 2012 DOE guidelines and the 2017 guide to prevent conflicts between the local communities and the factories. This review should also apply to the guidelines of all local authorities and not just Selangor alone.
Plan Malaysia and all local authorities should be stricter in ensuring that citizens in residential areas are free from environmental pollution and harm from industrial activity.
The public has a right to a clean environment, and it is the responsibility of our authorities to fulfil their duties in protecting every citizen and to safeguard access to clean air and water and to ensure good environmental quality.