radiation in Bukit Merah even after 18 years
Kuek Ser Kuang Keng • Mar 20, 12 1:06PM from Malaysiakini
“It is regrettable that within the 1.7km buffer zone of the dump site, we still found fish breeding, as well as animal and vegetable farming activities (left),” Tan said. AELB had earlier claimed that the plant site has been decontaminated, with radiation levels dropping from 0.65 microsievert per hour to 0.17 microsievert per hour, which is safe for human activities. The board also claimed that it had requested the authorities to move illegal farms and squatters living within the buffer zone around the waste dump site. The ARE plant run by Japanese company Mitsubishi Chemicals from the 1980s to the early 1990s, is blamed for spreading radiation poisoning inas a result of poor management of radioactive waste generated from processing tin tailings to extract rare earth.
Lessons from Bukit Merah
Several months after her stint at the ARE plant, her son, whom she asked only to be identified as Kok Leong, was born disabled.
The boy had severe problems with his eyes, eventually losing sight in his left eye when he was five. He also suffers from a hole in his heart.
But what pains Lai Kwan the most is that her precious son is mentally challenged.
Kok Leong is now an adult of 29 years, but his mind is no more developed than a toddler’s. He has little or no capacity for speech, and he has never been out of diapers. To keep him from wandering out of the safety of their home, he is kept at the back of their modest unit - separated from the rest of the world by a makeshift wire mesh door that stands up to his chest. And that is where Lai Kwan, now 69, has spent the past three decades, caring for her boy all these years in much the same way that she had from the first day she brought him home.
One of Lai Kwan’s daughters had to quit school, even before she finished Remove class, to help support the family, since her husband had abandoned them and she could not leave her son’s side. “When you see me and my son, can you feel how I feel?” she said in Hakka, the only dialect she is fluent in due to her limited education.
No clue on radiation exposure
Another senior citizen, whose family was also afflicted by radiation poisoning from the ARE plant, said it has been hard for her youngest daughter, having been constantly going in and out of the hospital since she was a baby. Panchavarnam Shanmugam, 55, was working as a labourer clearing forest cover on a plot of land right next to the ARE factory in 1987 when she noticed a lot of water being flushed out from the factory. “Our work took us about seven months to finish. Many times, there would be a lot of water coming from the factory and it would rise to almost as high as our knees. The water was very smelly,” she said at her home.
‘My child suffers’
Her daughter also had constant, splitting headaches, which came with heavy nose bleeds and on some occasions, fainting. It was only when Kasturi was around 10 or 11 years old that doctors discovered that she was suffering from leukaemia. Neither of her two elder siblings has the disease, nor could Panchavarnam recall anyone in her family having the condition. “She could not run like her friends, and she just found it hard to concentrate on anything. She can speak English, but it’s difficult for her to focus... she could not finish her Form Five,” Panchavarnam (right) said of her daughter. Kasturi, now 23, is now working in a nearby textile store, but Panchavarnam noted that her daughter still goes in and out of the hospital regularly. “It has been hard for her,” said the doting mother. And, as described by Lai Kwan’s daughter, who asked not to be named, it is hard not only on those made sick by the radiation but also on their families, who are helpless to change the fortunes of their loved ones. “I had a hard time in school before I stopped, because my classmates would make fun of my brother because of how he is. My mother couldn’t go for wedding dinners, or celebrate Mother’s Day because there wouldn’t be anyone to take care of my brother. “We have cried so much that our tears have run dry,” she said.