Landfills pose environmental hazard and require time to rehabilitate

Posted on November 1, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

-The Star- KUALA LUMPUR: About 90% of landfills in the country are mere open dumpsites and only a handful are sanitary landfills that meet the rules set by the Housing and Local Government Ministry.

Of these landfills, the Government has identified 16 critical ones situated near water intake points or the sea.

It is learnt that these landfills were identified by the Japan International Cooperation Agency in 2004 and the Government ordered their closure in 2006.

(These sites are currently in various phases of “rehabilitation”.)

One is the landfill near Sungai Kembong that caused the Sungai Semenyih water treatment plant to be closed temporarily due to high levels of ammonia in September.

In fact, this landfill had caught national attention in 2006 when a similar incident happened, causing two million people to be without water supply.

However, it takes a long time to properly rehabilitate a landfill, waste management specialist Dr Theng Lee Chong said, adding that the land concerned should not be developed in 20 to 30 years.

The basic steps are to cover the open dump with soil, conduct vegetation, drill holes through the dump to release gas, build drainage for diversion of rainwater as well as piping for the release of leachate.

Gas released from the landfill can either be used for flares or recovered to generate electricity while leachate collected will need to be treated separately.

He explained that a sanitary landfill required a proper set-up – a carefully selected location and soil which is of clay-like texture that has minimum permeability to prevent underground water contamination.

The landfill should also be properly engineered in accordance with geological and hydrogeological requirements.

Other must-have features include a synthetic geomembrane as a lining to prevent leakage, leachate collection pipes connecting to leachate treatment plant as well as gas pipes.

It must be maintained well; waste should be spread in layers and compacted.

Daily soil covering is required to make the waste less accessible to pests and vermin.

There will be no room for scavengers as all recyclable items should be retrieved before the waste reaches a sanitary landfill.

Scavengers can be employed as staff at the recycling centres.

However, there are only eight sanitary landfills in the country compared with 176 operating landfill sites and numerous illegal dumpsites.

The sanitary landfills are located in Pahang (one), Selangor (three), Johor (one) and Sarawak (three).

“Waste management is a huge burden to the country while sorting the garbage from source is not often practised by the people here.

“The Government is spending a tremendous amount of money on waste management,” said Dr Theng.

The incinerator was a good option, he said, but added that many residents and NGOs were opposed to the idea of having an incinerator due to random, unproven information.

This is despite countries like Japan, Singapore and many European countries having used them for years.

It is learnt that there will be five mini incinerators in Malaysia – in Pulau Pangkor (construction completed, soon to be commissioned), Labuan (to be completed by year’s end but delayed), as well as Pulau Langkawi, Pulau Tioman and Cameron Highlands (all three should be ready next year).

Dr Theng said another problem was that there was little coordination between the ministries dealing with it.

According to him, solid waste management was under the purview of the Housing and Local Government Ministry, hazardous industrial waste under the Department of Environ­ment, agricultural waste under the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry and medical waste under the Health Ministry.

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