Malaysia imposes three-month ban on bauxite exports to fight pollution

Malaysia imposes three-month ban on bauxite exports to fight pollution

Locals claim that pollution caused by bauxite mining has turned Malaysia's sea red. (Photo by GERAM | CleanMalaysia.com)

Malaysia has decided to halt the mining of bauxite in Pahang, the largest producing state, for three months beginning Jan. 15, in an attempt to cut sea and air pollution caused by the sector in the past two years.

Exports will continue as usual to clear the stockpiles, but the government will freeze new export permits during the moratorium, Bloomberg reports. A central storage area will be built with proper facilities, and monthly production will be capped based on Kuantan port's capacity of about 2.2 million metric tons, Bloomberg adds citing Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar.

Bauxite mining in central Pahang state began in 2013, but production only picked up in late 2014, as China turned to Malaysia for the aluminum-bearing rock after Indonesia banned bauxite exports and India raised ore tariffs.

Since then, residents have complained about pollution, caused by red dust and leakage from trucks carrying bauxite to the Kuantan port, The Malaysian Insider reports.

Residue from bauxite mining, a red sludge, can include naturally occurring chemicals and minerals such as arsenic and mercury, and heavy metals including strontium and cesium.

The minister noted that if the industry fails to “contain” the pollution problem within three months, the moratorium would be extended indefinitely.