PETALING JAYA: As the nation’s focus was directed towards the battle against Covid-19, many unscrupulous factory owners were taking the opportunity to set fire to plastics and other waste material.

There were twice as many fires in recycling facilities in Selangor during the period the country was put under a movement control order (MCO), compared with the same period last year.

Up north in Kedah, residents complained of bad air quality caused by fires in industrial zones.

The Department of Environment (DoE) has expressed concern about the impact on health caused by the burning of plastic waste.

Its Air Division director Mashitah Darus said the fumes from these fires could cause respiratory problems, trigger and aggravate asthma, and even lead to rashes and eyesores.

Selangor Fire and Rescue Department director Norazam Khamis told theSun that from March 18 to June 17, there were 14 fires at recycling plants in the state. During the same period last year, there were only six.

In addition, he said there were 72 fires at rubbish dumpsites so far this year, compared with 82 last year.

Norazam said the main cause of these fires were electrical wiring and equipment failure.

“The hot weather, paired with strong winds, as well as the irresponsible attitude of certain individuals also contributed to the statistics.”

He said waste-related fires also pose a danger to the health of firefighters.

“There are harmful gases and the risk of explosions.”

He advised the public to be more caring about the environment and immediately report such incidents to the Fire and Rescue Department to ensure the fires are brought under control quickly.

Kuala Langat Environment Action Committee secretary Pua Lay Peng alleged that some fires were started by factory owners who were planning on shutting down their operations and moving out quickly.

“Setting fire to the waste is the cheapest way of getting rid of it,” she said.

In Sungai Petani, residents have complained about bad air quality since the MCO was enforced.

Dr Tneoh Shen Jen, a member of the Sungai Petani Environment Action Committee, said it was caused by fires at the many industrial estates in the area.

“During the first phase of the MCO, we could not go out to investigate. There were nights when we could smell plastic or rubbish burning,” he said.

“Even now, many recycling facilities operate at night so it is difficult for residents to investigate them.”

Tneoh added there were also a few fires at illegal dumpsites in the area.

Information on the number of fires in the area during the MCO is not available but it is understood that at least three were linked to recycling facilities in the past two weeks.

Of the three fires, one was at a landfill in Sungai Lalang on June 12, one at a factory and another at an illegal dumpsite. Tneoh said the stench from the fumes was still present in the town.

“The air quality is still bad,” he added.

Read this story on our iPaper: Incidence of fire at recycling plants spikes during MCO, causing health hazards from toxic fumes

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