The levels were obtained from a monitoring board posted at SJK (C) Yuh Wah, around 1km away from the plant, which displays hydrogen cyanide exposure measured in parts per million (ppm).
“We found that every minute hydrogen cyanide is detected in the air, and the highest reading was 1.11ppm,” Tan Hui Chun, a member of the Ban Cyanide Action Committee (BCAC), told reporters here.
BCAC criticised the 10ppm maximum permissible level stipulated by the Department of Environment (DOE), claiming that it was way higher than the 4.7ppm level set by the Occupational Safety and Hazard Act (OSHA) 1994.
The group noted that while New York’s standard was set at 0.03ppm and the Czech Republic’s is 0.007ppm, Malaysia has no set level for hydrogen cyanide exposure in residential areas.
They stressed that they are not against the project, but urged RAGM and the government to follow a strict process to ensure that people are not being exposed to poisonous hydrogen cyanide.
Dr Tan Ka Kheng, a professor with the HELP College of Arts and Technology with a background in chemical and environmental engineering, expressed his shock over the irresponsible absence of environmental safeguards in the plant concerning hydrogen cyanide emission.
“If we have a limit, for example 4.7ppm per worker in the factory, for the public usually it’s at least 10 times less,” said Dr Tan, who acts as an adviser for BCAC.
“This is terrible. The only time we heard about cyanide poisoning was during the war.”
Hydrogen cyanide gas was used by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust for mass execution in the gas chambers, and was also part of the United States and Soviet Union’s chemical warfare arsenal.
The environmental group has gone through several defeats since the plant was opened in 2009 to extract gold from ore using a controversial process involving highly poisonous cyanide.
Just yesterday, the Ministry of Health rejected three of the five experts nominated by BCAC for a joint research panel with the ministry to investigate health effects of the plant.
Renowned international cyanide management and gold mining expert Dr Glenn C. Miller was rejected since his involvement would require lengthy bureaucratic approvals to obtain a working permit.
The other two experts were PAS MP for Kuala Selangor Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad and PSM MP for Sungai Siput Dr Michael Jeyakumar, both rejected for their political affiliations. They are both public health experts trained in toxicology and cardiology respectively.
Besides Dr Tan, the other expert accepted by the panel was Dr Chan Chee Khoon, an epidemiologist and former Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) lecturer.
In September last year, the group had failed in the Federal Court to challenge the preliminary environmental impact assessment (PEIA) report by RAGM, which was approved by DOE director-general.
In the same month, Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob issued a statement accusing opposition parties of politicising the issue.
“The opposition has learnt from their teacher Adolf Hitler, who believed that a lie told many times will become truth,” Adnan told the Pahang state assembly.
The Cabinet has insisted since 2009 that the gold mining plant poses no danger to the environment and the health of close to 3,000 residents in Bukit Koman.
Gold extraction using cyanide is currently banned in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and two states in the United States — Montana and Wisconsin.