Tue, 29 Jul 2003

Improper waste disposal a 'tragedy waiting to happen'

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A researcher has warned people against the possible outbreak of minamata disease in Indonesia due to the poor management of toxic waste water from mercury-using chemical companies.

Setiyono from the Research and Technology Application Agency revealed that 90 percent of mercury waste water produced by chemical companies is not accumulated at the only waste water treatment plant in Cileungsi, 20 kilometers southeast of the capital city.

"Only ten percent of toxic waste water is treated at the plant while the remaining 90 percent is treated by the companies that produce it (the waste), or directly dumped into the environment," he said at a seminar on environmental management here on Monday.

The plant at Cileungsi is the only treatment option for companies producing toxic waste.

"We are waiting for another Minamata tragedy to happen in Indonesia," he said.

More than 12,000 residents of the industrial area, Minamata, in Japan, were declared to be victims of mercury toxic waste in 1968. Chemical companies in the area had been dumping mercury waste for 36 years.

Around 1,400 of the patients -- who suffered from skin disease and serious pneumonia -- died after only days of medical treatment.

According to data, in Minamata, petrochemical and plastic factories dumped waste averaging at 750 kilograms per year in to the environment.

"The disease caused patients to suffer from severe convulsions, loss of consciousness, repeated lapses into crazed mental states and coma," he said, adding that such diseases had also broken out in other countries like China, Tanzania and Canada.

The Minamata tragedy resulted in the Japanese government constructing toxic waste water plants in the provinces.

In 2002, the Cileungsi plant treated over 32,000 tons of hazardous waste, an increase from about 30,000 tons in 2001, according to World Bank data.

Petrochemical and plastic factories in Indonesia produced more than one million tons of toxic waste in 2000 and only 100,000 tons were treated in the Cileungsi plant.

Setiyono also said it is no longer feasible for the plant to operate in Cileungsi because it is a densely populated area and the law states that such a facility must be located in an uninhabited area.

Setiyono also urged the government to conduct periodic tests in areas where chemical factories use mercury and to bring companies that violate the law to justice.