GEORGE TOWN - The Department of Environment (DOE) and Fisheries Department have been tasked with investigating reports of a high level of metal poisoning in Penang seas.
State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said the state was aware of the pollution and had been probing the extent of the pollution and its source in the last two weeks.
"However, the reports in The Star have pre-empted any official statements on the issue and as a first step, the Fisheries Department is investigating if there are any cases of dead fish as a result of metal poisoning," he said.
Phee said the second step was to determine the source of the pollution, which could be from illegal dumping as no vessels plied the seas near Penang National Park.
"However, the DOE has been directed to identify factories which have high levels of nickel in their manufacturing process and whether there has been any illegal dumping in the coastal areas.
"There were cases of cyanide dumping off Pulau Aman in the 90s so we have to investigate the possibility of a similar occurrence.
"We are not ruling out anything on the source of the pollution and will only know after the DOE completes its investigations," he added.
Phee was commenting on reports by The Star that heavy metal nickel, 944 per cent higher than natural, was found in the seas off Penang National Park in Teluk Bahang.
Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies (Cemacs) director Professor Datuk Dr Aileen Tan has said Universiti Sains Malaysia's Chemistry Department found nickel in the waters off Teluk Bahang at 0.472 parts per million (ppm), 944 per cent more than the standard 0.005ppm in typical sea water.
She added that lead was found at 184 per cent above normal or 0.804ppm, when it should be only 0.005ppm, while cadmium was 32 per cent higher at 0.065ppm instead of 0.0002ppm.
On the dangers to swimmers, Phee said the DOE was monitoring the situation and would immediately alert authorities if there were any reports of swimmers affected by metal poisoning.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the metal poisoning could be a new phenomenon but declined to comment further.
"We did not come across such issues when I was heading the state government's river and marine pollution task force," he said after officiating a prostheses programme at Chee Hoon Khor Moral Uplifting Society here.
Tanjung Bungah Residents' Association chairman Meenakshi Raman has called on the state government to set up an emergency task force to address the issue and alert the public about the dangers of swimming in such polluted waters.