My state Sabah has exported RM16.75 billion (US$5.5 billion) worth of palm oil products in the first nine months of 2011 and the oil palm industry has contributed more than 30% of Malaysia’s 2011 exports. All the while the waste water discharged from the palm oil industries has been the highlight of the news as it contributes significantly to the local rivers and soil pollutions.
Sabah government has planned to adopt a more stringent standard to govern the discharged from palm oil industries. Back in 2006, it had instructed mills operating along the Kinabatangan to implement a multiple-level treatment on the palm oil mill effluent (POME) before final discharge into river. Even with this, the POME still contains significant amount of organic substances. Microbes in the water will consume oxygen while digesting the POME organic substances. This demand action of oxygen is called biochemical oxygen demand (BOD). When the presence of the substance-rich POME increases in the water, the microbes will then consume oxygen in the faster rate than the atmospheric oxygen can be dissolved in the water. Fish and other aquatic life will be endangered due to oxygen depletion.
Untreated POME often has BOD around 25,000 mg/l. Sabah government has limited the BOD of POME discharged into river to 100 mg/l since 1984. This limit was gradually lowered to 20 mg/l in 2006.
The industry, while conceding that proper effluent management is important, is asking for a more lenient limit of 50 mg/l, which most players in the state can meet on a regular basis. The limit of 20mg/l will be tough for most players to achieve. The barrier is not so much technical but financial. Complying with the 20 mg/l limit means having to invest in “effluent polishing plants”. Also, the skill and knowledge of the plant operators are important to ensure that the plant can meet the requirement consistently.
The Malaysian palm oil industry is always improving its practices to minimize the impact on ecology and the environment. With Sabah government continuing to encourage the industry to adopt ever higher standards, it is hoped that palm oil mills will no longer be accused as the source of pollution in the Kinabatangan river basin in the years to come.
For more info please visit: http://www.kibaran.com/2012/12/sabah-more-stringent-pome-discharge.html