NEED TO CLEAN DRAINS

Clogged drain at Kg Benggali, Butterwoth.

Consumers Association of Penang urges the City Council of Penang (MBPP) and Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) to increase efforts in cleaning up drains in Penang to prevent  the spread of diseases.

CAP’s recent survey at various areas found many clogged drains. They have not been cleaned and were also covered with grease. Waste thrown in the drains clogged them up and produced a foul smell.

Foul smelling drains give a bad image to the state which is a prominent tourism destination and also pose a health hazard to the residents as dirty drains attract rodents, cockroaches, and other pests.

Among the badly affected areas are Jalan Telekom, Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Jalan Utama, Jalan Macalister, Jalan Gurdwara, Jalan Jones, and most of the drains at Ayer Itam and Bayan Baru on Penang Island while Jalan Kampung Gajah, Jalan Bagan Luar, and Jalan Kampung Bengali are in Seberang Perai.

The City Council of Penang Island (MBPP) and the Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) should act proactively and not wait for complaints to be made.

The drain structures in Penang should also be modified to meet the increased density of population in many areas.

The State government must direct agencies concerned to improve the old drainage system before any new project is carried out. This includes the widening and deepening of the present drains so that the waste water is able to flow unhindered.

Press Statements, 2 March 2018

A Clear Mocker Of The Explosives Act

Consumers’ Association of Penang has been reminding various relevant authorities about the violations of the Explosives Act for more than two decades but these calls have fallen on deaf ears. As over the weekend we were a laughing stock when banned firecrackers and fireworks were let off freely without an ounce of fear of breaking the law.

The relevant authorities are pussy footing around the issue without a political will to enforce the Act but having a knee-jerk reaction when an incident occurs. If the authorities are willing to wield the full weight of the law to hammer out this menace then it would not have sustained the business of selling firecrackers/fireworks.

It would not make business sense if the importer, the warehouse owner, retailer, and the person who are caught in possession of these explosives to receive maximum sentence allowed. In fact, the law should be amended to have the properties of those involved in the trade confiscated as well.

Obviously firecrackers/fireworks are not only sold behind counters or in back lanes when six stalls openly selling them along Jalan Mergastua were engulfed in flames on 17 February 2018. It resulted in the destruction of a Toyota Vios and a motorcycle, and partial damage to a Honda City.

Twenty-six persons were injured when fire crackers were let off during a Thaipusam celebration in Sungai Petani on 2 February 2018. Four persons were charged but the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) is also keen to know where the culprits sourced their fire crackers. Why must the investigation end with these four persons? The supplier is also guilty for importing without a license, storing, and selling these explosive items.

These are for the start of an ‘auspicious’ 2018.

We seriously urge that if the authorities are not keen/capable in enforcing the law, then they might as well lift the ban on firecrackers/fireworks entirely. It may not look as bad as having a plethora of laws and regulations that are left poorly enforced and make a mockery of the laws of the country.

PRESS STATEMENT, 19 February 2018

THREAT OF WEEDY RICE IN MADA AREA

CAP Urges Review of Direct Seeding Method and Use of Modern Technology

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) urges the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry to conduct a comprehensive study on the occurrence and causes of weedy rice at the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (MADA) area.

Recently, local media reported that 15,000 hectares of paddy fields in Perlis and Kedah within the MADA rice bowl area of 100, 685 hectares has been affected by the weedy rice problem.

CAP is astounded why the weedy rice problem has yet to be resolved although farmers have been facing this problem for more than 10 years. Why wasn’t a detailed study with recommendations to resolve the problem effectively not taken earlier to curb the problem from becoming serious and burdening the farmers here.

CAP is concerned that besides the problem of weedy rice, MADA farmers also face the threat of sambau grass or goosegrass (Eleusine indica). Weedy rice can affect rice yields between 60 and 90% while sambau grass can reduce farmers’ yields between 10 and 80%.

CAP’s survey found that the two major problems faced by 63,000 farmers, comprising of  pest attacks and paddy disease, have resulted in a decline in revenue of more than 50% during the harvest season.

CAP estimates that ever since these problems occurred, as a whole the losses amounting to tens of millions of ringgit have been experienced by MADA farmers.

In view of this, CAP calls on the Ministry to conduct a study on the effect of direct seeding  system, the use of harvesting machinery, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and rice seeds in the MADA area.

CAP believes that there is a possibility that all the abovementioned practices, including the problem of water supply that is often encountered by farmers here have contributed to the emergence of weedy rice, sambau grass, pests and rice diseases in this area.

The introduction of modern technology and practice of current agricultural systems including the use of chemicals should be reviewed by the Ministry and relevant agencies. CAP is concerned that the adverse effects of conversion to modern technology  will affect the livelihood of MADA farmers and affect our country’s food security in the future.

Hence it is necessary for the relevant parties to conduct a detailed study on this matter so that the cause of the problems affecting farmers in the MADA area is addressed effectively.

On the allegations that there was a deceptive element in the production and sale of poor quality paddy seeds linked to the growth of weedy rice, CAP recommends that a thorough investigation and strict actions are taken on those found to have cheated.

Press Release, 29 January 2018

CAP: Ban air fresheners and fragrances in public places

CAP President at Ban Fragrances Press Conference.

The Consumers Association of Penang calls on the authorities to promulgate laws to ban the use of fragrances in public places as it is hazardous to health. The ban should include the use of air freshener and perfume.

Driven by advertisements that promote scented environments as clean and healthy, it is common to find air fresheners being used in public places such as at airports, restaurants, shopping malls, meeting rooms and banquet halls. Despite their popularity, there are concerns that these products increase indoor air pollution and pose a health risk, especially with long-term exposure.

According to the US Academy of Sciences, 95% of the chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum. They include known toxins capable of causing cancer, birth defects central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions.

Air fresheners may use chemicals called phthalates that can cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems.

Phthalates (a group of toxic plasticers) are used in air fresheners to dissolve and carry the smell of fragrances. The use of air fresheners releases the phthalates into the air. They may then be inhaled, or the aerosol particles may land on the skin and be absorbed.  Once these chemicals enter the bloodstream, they can alter hormone levels and cause health problems.

Numerous animal studies have linked prenatal exposure to certain phthalates with decreases in testosterone, malformations of the genitalia, and reduced sperm production.

In humans, phthalates have been associated with changes in hormone levels, poor semen quality, and changes in genital development. Phthalate exposure in indoor environments has also been associated with allergic symptoms and asthma. As there are no labelling requirements and even “natural” products can contain toxic chemicals, it is virtually impossible for the average consumer to know which products may pose a risk.

Besides phthalates, air fresheners release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. VOC turns into a vapour or gas easily at room temperature and are known to cause health problems. Secondary pollutants are also formed when a product’s chemicals combine with the ozone present in the air.

Studies have shown that, fewer than 10% of all volatile ingredients are typically disclosed on air freshener labels or material safety data sheets. Air fresheners are the primary source of volatile organic compounds causing indoor air pollution.

Air fresheners are air pollutants. They do not ‘purify’ the surrounding air and they also do not add ‘natural’ fragrances.  Some of these air fresheners even coat the nasal passages with an oily film or by releasing nerve-deadening agents to drown out smells.

Even so-called green and organic air fresheners can emit hazardous air pollutants. Air freshener ingredients are largely unknown and undisclosed, owing to intellectual protection which allows companies to hide their formulations.

Unintentional injuries have also been reported with these products, including burns when flammable air fresheners have been ignited by a nearby flame.

Consumers should have the right to clean air; they should not be imposed to breathe in air that is tainted with artificial fragrances and other toxic chemicals. Presently there are laws to ban smoking in public places, similar laws should be applied as artificial fragrance oils contained chemicals that are the same as in cigarette smoke. Consumers should avoid using air fresheners especially in places where there are children or pregnant women.

Besides air fresheners, artificial scent in public places is a nuisance as individuals with allergies and chemical sensitivities are unable to go to places such as movie theatres and shopping malls. Individuals who wear the fragrances want to be noticed and end up giving a headache or migraine to people around them. As in the case of tobacco, breathing someone else’s perfume is not a choice as it is impossible to avoid the toxic fragrance in the air.

Similar hazards hide in a wide range of fragranced consumer products like shampoos soap, baby products, deodorant, aftershave, makeup, laundry products, household cleaners, candles and toys.

Meanwhile consumers are advised to:

  •  avoid the use of air fresheners as they are pollutants which masks poor air quality and worsens it.
  •  choose products with no added fragrance to reduce the exposure to toxic chemicals.
  •  read ingredient labels to check whether they contain fragrances  and  even products advertised as “unscented” or “fragrance free” may contain VOCs.

In view of the hazards associated with fragrances, the Consumers Association of Penang calls on the authorities to promulgate laws to ban the use of air fresheners and fragrances in public places.

As fragrances are known to contain harmful chemicals this will be a way to reduce toxic chemical exposure to consumers.

Press Statement, 17 January 2018

Action needed now on antibiotic resistance

The world is marking World Antibiotics Awareness Week on 13-19 November. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the world is running out of new antibiotics to fight the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. Malaysia is also affected and must take urgent action on this threat.

In the words of the Chief Medical Officer of the United Kingdom, Professor Dame Sally Davies, ‘the world is facing an antibiotic apocalypse’. If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, it will spell ‘the end of modern medicine’. Unless action is taken to halt the practices that have allowed antimicrobial resistance to spread and ways are found to develop new types of antibiotics, we could return to the days when routine operations, simple wounds or straightforward infections could pose real threats to life, she warns.

A WHO report* confirms that most of the new drugs currently developed to overcome antibiotic resistance  are only short-term solutions. The report found very few potential treatment options for those antibiotic infections posing the greatest threat to health, including antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis (TB) which kills some 250,000 people each year.

‘Antimicrobial resistance (which includes resistant bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites) is a global health emergency that will seriously jeopardise progress in modern medicine,’ warned Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

Today, around 700,000 people around the world die annually due to antimicrobial-resistant infections including TB, HIV and malaria. If no action is taken, it has been estimated that antibiotic-resistant infections will kill 10 million people a year by 2050.

Dame Sally said that because antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is ‘hidden’, people ‘just let it pass’. ‘This AMR is with us now, killing people… If it was anything else people would be up in arms about it. But because it is hidden they just let it pass… It will only get worse unless we take strong action everywhere across the globe.’

This is a global concern as new resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally, threatening the ability to treat common infectious diseases, resulting in prolonged illness, disability and death.

Without effective drugs for prevention and treatment of infections, medical procedures such as organ transplants, cancer chemotherapy, diabetes management and surgeries like caesarean sections or hip replacements become very high-risk.

Another related problem is that no new classes of antibiotics have reached the market in the last 30 years. There is a need for new innovation models that develop new antibiotics which are also affordable.

AMR increases the cost of health care. According to a review done by the UK government, AMR will cost the world economy as much as $100 trillion annually.

AMR occurs naturally over time, usually through genetic changes. However, the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials is accelerating the process. Examples of misuse include when patients with viral infections like colds and flu are prescribed antibiotics, or the prevalent practice of feeding antibiotics to animals as growth promoters.

The residues of these drugs as well as the antibiotic-resistant organisms are found in water, soil and air. They can spread between people and animals, and from person to person. Poor infection control, inadequate sanitary conditions and inappropriate food-handling encourage the spread of AMR.

The WHO’s World Health Assembly recognised that AMR has to be tackled using a ‘One Health’ model that promotes a coherent, comprehensive and integrated approach involving different actors and sectors, such as human and veterinary medicine, agriculture, finance, environment and consumers. This multisectoral response would be part and parcel of National Action Plans (NAPs) by all WHO member states.

CAP calls on the government to:

  •        Ensure a robust National Action Plan is in place to tackle antibiotic resistance. Strong political commitment, national ownership and sufficient multisectoral institutional capacities are essential for effective implementation of the NAP. It should involve as many ‘stakeholders’ as possible including NGOs. The NAP for Malaysia should be made available to the public and widely publicised.
  •        Improve surveillance of antibiotic-resistant infections. A national integrated surveillance  system should include the public and private sectors and veterinary medicine, aquaculture, livestock and its products, agriculture and the environment. A national system of surveillance of antibiotic consumption in all sectors should be implemented as well.

– Strengthen infection prevention and control measures, e.g. investments in sewerage and sanitation infrastructure especially the removal of antibiotics from waste water.

– Formulate and implement a national policy for rational and appropriate use of antibiotics.

– Enact regulation in prescription and dispensing of drugs and its enforcement.

– Regulate the unethical marketing practices of antibiotics in terms of promotions and the incentives offered to medical, dental and veterinary practitioners to increase sales and usage.

– Educate the public on the dangers of antibiotic misuse and overuse. Involve the NGOs, the media, schools, communities, health professionals and consumers.

– Strengthen the Environmental Quality Act 1974 to include control over antibiotic contamination of water systems, waste treatment, sewage, soil and air particles.

– Regulate and monitor the use of antibiotics in livestock production, aquaculture, agriculture and horticulture and ban its non-therapeutic uses.

Press Release/Letter to Editor, 16 November 2017