As the government studies the need to restructure the buffer zones for industrial areas in Pasir Gudang, concerns have arisen that the method may not be effective in addressing pollution issues.
Last week, the area was hit by another pollution incident, with schools closing due to toxic fumes being detected.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Centre for Innovative Planning and Development director Muhammad Zaly Shah said merely having a wider buffer zone would not be a cure-all solution, as it is only effective in preventing certain types of pollution, such as noise and water.
“It may not be effective against air pollution released by factories because air pollution involves other aspects, like wind movement, and encompasses a much wider area, and can sometimes go beyond the borders of the country, for example, haze due to open burning,” he said.
“Not all factories in the area would cause or produce the same kind of pollution.
“For non-polluting factories, they might not need or have anything to do with the buffer zones, but when (the rule is) imposed on all factories, it might be a burden and constraint to their operations.”
Zaly proposed for a consultation process to be held with the factories to minimise the impact on their operations.
The factories, he said, could also request to not be involved in forking out the cost for the buffer zone.
“The enforcement action to keep pollution under check should be done in a strict and transparent manner.
“The maximum alternative (action) is to shut down the plant by revoking the operating licence if any of the conditions are not complied with.
“However, the existing laws should also be reviewed in detail before any action is taken to prevent the legal action,” he said.
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UTM senior lecturer Shazmin Shareena Ab Azis said the ideal distance for a buffer zone in heavy industrial areas such as Pasir Gudang should be 500m away from residential areas.
“The buffer zone’s main aim is to preserve the quality of life by adopting the sustainable development concept,” she said.
Shazmin added that Malaysia could refer to the industrial buffer zone concept adopted by the Wollongong City Council in Australia, where the heavy industrial sector had little to no impact on nearby residential areas, public recreational areas and the environment.
She said the government could also adopt the “urban regeneration” method to re-organise the existing industrial estates for conservation purposes.
“This method does not involve the transfer of existing industrial estates, but only involves the restructuring of the existing area to solve the problems faced.
“It solves problems by bringing sustainable development in terms of the economic, physical, social and environmental aspects in the area,” she said.
Shazmin said that a successful example of urban regeneration in Malaysia was the Section 13 industrial area in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
”The government could also make it compulsory for the heavy-duty industry to adopt ISO 14000 standards published by the International Organisation for Standardisation aimed at ensuring environmental sustainability and ensuring the quality of life for the community over the long term,” she added.