All Who Approved “Unproven” Incinerator Technology Should Be Held Liable

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) supports the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)’s call for “appropriate action” to be taken against the negligence displayed by several officials in approving the use of an incinerator technology without conducting any due diligence on the claims made by the contractor appointed to build the facilities. In addition to the officials mentioned by the PAC, CAP views that the Cabinet Committee, Department of Environment, the review panel and consultants of the four environmental impact assessment reports should also be held responsible for endorsing this technology.

In 2009, CAP had commented on the Detailed EIA of the four proposed incinerator projects in Pulau Langkawi, Pulau Pangkor, Pulau Tioman and Cameron Highlands. In our comments on the proposed incinerators in Pulau Langkawi and Pulau Pangkor, CAP pointed out that the incinerator plants using the autogenous combustion technology (ACT) developed by XCN Technology Sdn Bhd was largely a laboratory experiment and unproven in large-scale, real-world situations. There was lack of independent studies to demonstrate that the technology was safe or cost effective on a commercial large-scale.

The executive summary of the DEIA of the Pulau Langkawi incinerator (page xxxiv) states that:

“An ACT pilot plant with the capacity to treat 1 MT of waste per hour was constructed at the Universiti Teknologi MARA for performance evaluation purposes. Using solid waste samples from the University and Alam Flora Sdn. Bhd., test runs were conducted in June 2004 and April 2005. Major findings from these test runs were:

• The pilot plant was capable of treating solid waste with 60% moisture content and reducing waste volume by 90%;

• Plant operations were intermittently disrupted due to accumulation of ash within the combustion chamber; and

• The environmental performance of the plant was evaluated without the presence of any air pollution control equipments.

To address the shortcomings of the pilot plant, the full scale TTP will be equipped with continuous de-ashing and pollution control systems.” …

From the paragraph above, even a lay person would be able to point out that the proposed technology is “UNPROVEN”. And this was precisely the heading of CAP’s comments when referring to the description of the project. How this escaped the experts, DOE and the EIA review panel’s scrutiny is beyond us.

CAP even highlighted the fact that since there is no existing actual data of emissions performance, feasibility and cost-effectiveness for a thermal treatment plant of similar capacity as the proposed incinerator plants, how can anyone assure that the plant would perform and able to comply with emission standards.

To simply rely on the data of the air quality-modeling works in determining the safety of the proposed TTP is clearly inadequate and can be highly misleading. Models are essentially theoretical structures. Their predictions and projections are limited by laboratory conditions and a host of other constraints. Essentially, models are not able to take into account the real factors and problems that may arise in the actual setting.

Besides the so-called experts endorsing this technology, it was mentioned in the DEIA that the ACT equipped rotary kiln was proposed by the Cabinet Committee on Solid Waste and Environment Management. So this Cabinet Committee should also be taken to task.

There have been other cases such as this where the Cabinet, “experts” and senior officials endorse and approve certain technologies at face value as pointed out by the PAC. Even if NGOs or communities point out that these are unproven, unsafe, high risk projects/technologies/ventures, we are shunned and at times declared anti-development.

We fear for the future of Malaysia with this kind of irresponsible, arrogant people heading national bodies, ignoring the civil society views and submitting to corporate influences. There are more irrational projects in the pipeline such as sturgeon farming in Kuala Tahan, Pahang and the mega-incinerator in Taman Beringin, Kepong. These destructive projects must be scrapped for the sake of the people and the environment.

CAP urges stringent action to be taken against all those responsible to this sheer negligence and waste of public funds, to serve as a lesson to others.

Letter to the Press, 12 November 2014