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Logo RAS - New

September 29, 2009

Cancer villages

All across China, villagers are suffering the consequences of the country’s economic boom.

ONE needs to look no further than the river that runs through Shangba to understand the extent of the heavy metals pollution that experts say has turned the hamlets in this region of southern China into cancer villages.

The river’s flow ranges from murky white to a bright shade of orange and the waters are so viscous that they barely ripple in the breeze. In Shangba, the river brings death, not sustenance.

“All the fish died, even chickens and ducks that drank from the river died. If you put your leg in the water, you’ll get rashes and a terrible itch,” said He Shuncai, a 34-year-old rice farmer who has lived in Shangba all his life. “Last year alone, six people in our village died from cancer and they were in their 30s and 40s.”

Highly polluted: Heavy metals contamination has coloured this lake near Dabaoshan in north Guangdong, a sick red. Pollution has turned hamlets in this region of southern China into cancer villages

Cancer casts a shadow over the villages in this region of China in southern Guangdong province, nestled among farmland contaminated by heavy metals used to make batteries, computer parts and other electronics devices. Every year, an estimated 460,000 people die prematurely in China due to exposure to air and water pollution, according to a 2007 World Bank study.

Yun Yaoshun’s two granddaughters died at the ages of 12 and 18, succumbing to kidney and stomach cancer even though these types of cancers rarely affect children. The World Health Organisation has suggested that the high rate of such digestive cancers are due to the ingestion of polluted water.

“It’s because of Dabaoshan and the dirty water,” said the 82-year-old grandmother. “The girls were always playing in the river, even our well water is contaminated,” Yun said.

The river where the children played stretches from the bottom of the Dabaoshan mine, owned by state-owned Guangdong Dabaoshan Mining Co, past the ramshackle family home. Its waters are contaminated by cadmium, lead, indium and zinc and other metals.

The villagers use well water in Shangba for drinking but tests published by BioMed Central in July show that it contains excessive amounts of cadmium, a heavy metal that is a known carcinogen, as well as zinc which in large quantities can damage the liver and lead to cancer.

“China has many ‘cancer villages’ and it is very likely that these increased cases of cancer are due to water pollution,” said Edward Chan, an official with Greenpeace in southern China.

But it’s not just water, the carcinogenic heavy metals are also entering the food chain.

Mounds of tailings from mineral mining are discarded alongside paddy fields throughout the region.

“If you test this rice, it will be toxic but we eat it too, otherwise, we will starve,” said He, the farmer, as he shovelled freshly milled rice into a sack. “Yes, we sell this rice too.”

Few families in the villages downstream from the Dabaoshan mine have been left untouched by cancer. The most common cancers are those of the stomach, liver, kidney and colon, accounting for about 85% of cancers. Cancer incidence rates in these villages are not available, but rights groups say they are far higher than the national average.

He Kangcai, 60, who is suffering from stomach cancer, at his home at Shangba village, north Guangdong. The river that runs through the village is heavily polluted and is said to have sickened villagers.

“In southern China, where communities depend largely from ponds or lakes for drinking water, the rates of digestive system cancer are very high,” said a report Environment And People’s Health In China, published by the World Health Organisation and United Nations Development Programme in 2001.

Across China, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of small, anonymous villages that are suffering the consequences of the country’s rapid economic expansion, villages with rates and types of cancers that experts say can only be due to pollution. This may be the fate of more and more of China’s population as mines and factories spew out tens of millions of tonnes of pollution every year, into the water system as well as the air, to produce the fruits of China’s economic growth.

Death rates from cancer rose 19% in cities and 23% in rural areas in 2006, compared to 2005, according to official Chinese media, although they did not give exact figures. The health burden has an economic price. The cost of cancer treatment has reached almost 100 billion yuan a year (RM52.5bil), accounting for 20% of China’s medical expenditure, according to Chinese media.

The lack of a national health system means that most of the victims must pay their medical bills themselves. Health care costs took up 50% of household income in China in 2006 due to inadequate health insurance, according to a paper published in the Lancet in October 2008.

China does not have a comprehensive state health care system and more than 80% of farmers have no medical insurance at all, although there are plans for sweeping reforms so that by 2011, most of the population will have basic medical coverage.

The residents of so called cancer villages, meanwhile, struggle to fund their medical care, often going into debt to pay crippling pharmaceutical and doctors’ bills.

“An official did come to give me our compensation, 20 yuan (RM10.50),” said Liang Xiti, whose husband died of stomach cancer at the age of 46. His medicines alone cost the family 800 yuan (RM400) a month, she said.

Zhang Jingjing, a lawyer who is helping the villagers, said the local mine has promised to distribute a few thousands yuan to all the villagers every year. Even though the funds will barely cover medical expenses, Zhang says it is an encouraging first step. “This means the mine admits it is polluting the environment. If it did no wrong, it won’t give out this money.”

The Star Tuesday29.09.2009

September 18, 2009

September 16, 2009

Tanah Bukit Di Kitar Semula

Kerajaan negeri sedia gudang khas untuk kegunaan projek akan datang

MELAKA: Selama ini, banyak tanah bukit berharga di negeri ini dipercayai 'hilang' begitu saja apabila pemaju projek yang membangunkan sesuatu kawasan memunggahnya keluar tanpa membayar wang permit kepada kerajaan.

Amalan kontraktor yang lazimnya membuang atau menjual semula tanah milik kerajaan itu kini dihentikan apabila Ketua Menteri, Datuk seri Mohd Ali Rustam campur tangan dan mahu sistem itu diubah.

"Setiap lori yang membawa keluar tanah dari tapak sesuatu projek mesti ada permit dan tanah berkenaan mestilah disimpan di dua kawasan milik kerajaan tanpa dikenakan sebarang bayaran,” katanya.

Justeru beliau mengarahkan tanah bukit yang diratakan atau tanah biasa di negeri ini disimpan sebagai stok kerajaan di dua lokasi iaitu di tanah lapang di belakang Pusat Dagangan Antarabangsa Melaka (MITC) dan Kampung Tun Razak di Ayer Keroh.

"Kita perlu simpan tanah ini untuk kegunaan projek akan datang, ia tidak boleh dibuang begitu saja, saya mahu setiap pegawai kerajaan negeri yang terbabit dalam projek pembangunan melaksanakannya mulai hari ini," katanya.

Beliau berkata, amalan sebelumnya didapati merugikan kerajaan dan membazir apabila terpaksa berbelanja untuk membeli tanah untuk menambah sesebuah kawasan pembangunan yang memerlukan tanah berkenaan.

Selain tanah dan batu batan, Mohd Ali juga mahu agensi kerajaan terbabit mewujudkan sebuah gudang khas seperti milik sebuah syarikat swasta di Bukit Rambai yang khusus untuk menyimpan papan dan kayu dari bangunan lama yang diruntuhkan.

"Menerusi amalan kitar semula bahan buangan ini, kerajaan banyak menjimatkan wang kerana jika ia tersimpan di satu kawasan, mudah untuk kita dapat bahan itu semula pada bila-bila masa,” katanya.

Sumber : Berita Harian
Isnin. 14 September, 2009

September 8, 2009

September 1, 2009

Glittering minefield

To most of us, that old mobile phone languishing in the drawer is practically worthless. But to an electronic waste recycler, it is quite literally as precious as gold.

AS I held that bar of pure gold in my hand, it was hard to imagine that the precious 1kg ingot had been produced from thousands of unwanted mobile phones. Yes, there’s gold in your mobile phones, as well as other electronics. Being an excellent conductor of electricity and also extremely resistant to corrosion, the metal is commonly used in communication equipment, electronics cables, motherboards and of course, mobile phones.

But before you start harbouring dreams of raking in the bucks by selling your old mobile phones and PCs, be warned – there is only a minuscule amount of gold in them. In fact, says John Ashok, deputy managing director of electronic waste recycling company, TES-AMM, one needs more than 200,000 mobile phones or three tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) to produce a single 1kg gold ingot.

Trash to treasure: A TES-AMM employee separating a pile of used mobile phones according to their various main components such as batteries, phone, wires and headset.

Besides, recycling e-waste isn’t just about gold prospecting – such waste has lots of other useful stuff that can be extracted too. Almost 97% of a mobile phone, for instance, can be recycled for plastic, ferrous metals and lithium, among other things. Only its LCD screen is non-recyclable because of its heavy metals content.

Recycling e-waste is vital not only for the environment but for the manufacturing industry as well. Not only does it prevent e-waste from ending up in landfills and contaminating the environment with toxic and heavy metals, it helps reduce the need to create or mine raw materials for new products, which also reduces manufacturing costs.

So what happens when mobile phones and other electronic items are brought to an e-waste recycling plant? I was given a tour of the TES-AMM plant in Seberang Prai, Penang, and shown step-by-step, how the most precious mineral in the world is extracted from an unwanted piece of junk.

Collecting the waste

E-waste recycling is all about volume. The more the supply, the more raw materials you can glean from it. The bulk of TES-AMM’s supply comes from industrial and corporate sources. The old mobile phones and accessories collected by Nokia, for instance, are sent to TES-AMM for recycling.

It takes about 200,000 mobile phones to produce one 1kg gold ingot.

“We simply can’t survive on public input alone,” says Ashok. TES-AMM has the means to recycle almost any electronic item. Ashok says you can even drop your old TV at the factory, though you are not likely to get much out of it besides the good feeling of having done something for the environment.

Unfortunately, most people still expect to be rewarded for bringing in their electronic items. After all, if they can get a few ringgit for a pile of old newspapers, why should they get peanuts for something which they had paid hundreds if not thousands of ringgit for?

“People need to understand that the reason why they have to pay so much for a new item is because of what it can do for you. Once it breaks down, it is just a worthless piece of junk made of plastic and metal,” says Ashok. “They also need to understand that we still need to foot the bill for transporting, recycling and disposing the item. However, whenever possible, we will work out some form of incentives for them, whether in the form of vouchers or a token sum for their effort.”

Weighing and separating

All the collected e-waste is shipped to the 11,220sqm TES-AMM factory and stored in a large warehouse. As we walked into the building, we were greeted by numerous piles of electrical and electronic items – from computers to monitors, televisions, mobile phones and large industrial machinery.

E-waste brought here is first weighed, verified, recorded, and then sorted manually according to type, which makes it easier to determine how best to recycle the waste. Mobile phones are then separated into components such as batteries, phones, wires, headsets and so on, after which they will be dismantled.

The protection of intellectual property is an important consideration in a recycling plant. Security is extremely tight around the plant. Nokia-related waste, for instance, is stored in a secured area. It can only be acessed under supervision by a Nokia personnel.


At the end of the e-waste recycling process at TES-AMM, the 99.9% gold dust is smelted under a temperature of 1,200°C and processed into a gold ingot.

Here, a line of workers work quickly and diligently, stripping the items down to even smaller components, and categorising them into a “waste stream” consisting of plastic, ferrous metal, electronic scraps and so on.

Plastics and ferrous metals are crushed, packed and shipped to other recycling factories that specialise in such materials, as is the paper packaging waste. Even the carbon collected from printer toner cartridges is collected and sent to paint manufacturers to be reused.

TES-AMM has permits from Malaysian and Singaporean environment authorities to ship items containing cobalt and lithium (such as phone batteries) to their plant in Singapore where these heavy metals are extracted. (Permits are required as hazardous waste cannot be freely transported under the global treaty, the Basel Convention.)

“At our plant, we only retain components with gold in them, such as the PCB (printed circuit boards), the PC motherboards and so on. Everything else is left in their original forms and shipped elsewhere for recycling,” says Ashok.

Electronic scraps containing gold are sent for chemical processing while those with no apparent gold content have to be mechanically crushed first.


This process is used to crush electronic parts that contain traces of precious metals into powder form, which makes it easier to extract the gold in them later on.

It also reduces the size of components like plastic housing and ferrous materials before they are shipped out to other locations for recycling.

Chemical process

Arguably the most important part of the entire recycling process, this is where gold is extracted from the waste. There are two different processes for this. The first is for waste with apparent gold. The stripped down components are dumped into a bin, which is then lowered into a sequence of different chemicals that will dissolve the gold. The resultant solution is then put through an electrolysis process, which separates the gold into plates. Meanwhile, the materials with non-apparent gold content, which have been crushed into powder, are put through a chemical solution that strips away all precious metals.

Gold smelting

And now we come to the final and most glamorous process of them all – making the gold ingots.

After the gold has been collected via the mechanical and chemical processes, it is refined through a chemical process to produce 99.9% pure gold in dust form. The gold dust is then smelted under a temperature of 1,200°C and processed into a gold ingot.

“This gold ingot will be out of our factory within hours of being smelted. Everything we produce here is already pre-booked and pre-sold to industrial buyers for reuse, so it doesn’t stay in the plant for long,” says Ashok.

Recycling e-waste will generate waste of other kinds due to the chemical processes involved. Ashok says such waste is dealt with properly, through a series of refining and treatment. The resulting wastewater is clean enough to be released into drains, while the sludge containing toxic materials such as tin, lead and arsenic is disposed of at the Kualiti Alam toxic waste facility in Bukit Nanas, Negeri Sembilan.

A phone for a tree

According to a recent global survey by Nokia, only 3% of consumers recycle their old mobile phones. Also, three out of four people do not even think about recycling their devices and nearly half are unaware that it is possible to do so.

The survey also found that one of the main reasons why so few people recycle their mobile phones is because they simply don’t know where to do so.

With that in mind, Nokia has set up special kiosks at four locations in the Klang Valley to make it easier for consumers to recycle their mobile phones.

The programme includes a unique “recycle a phone, adopt a tree” scheme called NEWtrees. This is a joint venture with WWF Indonesia, Nokia and Equinox Publishing, which aims to replant trees in Lombok, Indonesia.

For every phone you recycle, NEWtrees will plant a tree in your name.

The GPS co-ordinates of its location will be e-mailed to you.

You can then monitor its growth online through Google Earth.

The image will be updated every six to nine months.

You can drop off your mobile phones and accessories (all brands will be accepted) for recycling at these Nokia kiosks:

> Nokia Concept Store, Lot T-242B, 3rd Floor, The Gardens, Mid Valley City, Kuala Lumpur / Tel: 03-2284 3929

> Nokia Store, Lot G92, Ground Floor, The Curve, Petaling Jaya / Tel: 03-7725 0396

> Nokia Kiosk, K3, Level 3, Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur / Tel: 03-2070 0190

> KTS Cellular, Giant Hypermarket, Bandar Kinrara, Puchong



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