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Malaysia puts bauxite mining ban on hold until impact studies completed

A largely unregulated bauxite industry was blamed for turning some of Malaysia’s waters and seas red. (Image courtesy of Clean Malaysia.)

Malaysia is extending its ban on bauxite mining by at least another six months, which is how long companies wishing to resume operations may take to complete studies on the environmental impact of their mines.

The long-held moratorium on mining the ore, used to smelt aluminium, was due to end on March 31, but critics have pressed the government to step up the conditions to obtain a licence. They claim pits across the country, particularly in the bauxite-rich state of Pahang, had caused serious environmental and public health issues in the past.

Bauxite mining was banned early in 2016 after unregulated extraction and waste run-offs polluted water sources, turning roads, rivers and coastal waters red.

“I would like to stress the orders to stop all mining operations would be retracted only after all relevant parties are prepared to carry out and enforce the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for mining and exporting Bauxite in Pahang,” Land and Natural Resources Minister, Xavier Jayakumar, told Malay Mail.

“Even if the moratorium on bauxite mining and exports expires at the end of this month, it does not mean mining activities can immediately begin on April 1,” the minister added.

Malaysia was once the top supplier of bauxite to China, with exports peaking at nearly 3.5 million tonnes a month by the end of 2015. Mining the minerals-bearing rock was banned early in 2016 after unregulated extraction and run-offs from unsecured stockpiles polluted water sources, turning roads, rivers and coastal waters red. There was also a reported increase in respiratory problems and skin rashes.