Submersion of solar batteries under Bengoh Dam waters raises concerns

PKR Mas Gading branch chairman Boniface Willy Tumek explaning about the size of the solar battery.

KUCHING, Dec 6: After the seepage seen on the RM310 million Bengoh dam, villagers are asking whether the solar unit batteries submerged under water are now leaking lead.

Two of the four submerged villages, Kampung Rejoi and Kampung Taba Sait, were using solar electricity for power in their houses and schools. There are about 300 units of solar batteries for each kampung, used to store solar energy channeled from solar panels installed in the respective village.

“It is alleged that about 600 solar batteries were not removed from the two villages and are now submerged in water,” said PKR Mas Gading branch chairman Boniface Willy Tumek, pointing out that the battery might be leaking lead into the water in the dam.

He thereby urged the Minister for Public Utilities Datuk Seri Dr Stephen Rundi Utom and Minister of Urban Development and Natural Resources Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg to disclose what had happened to those solar batteries used in the two kampung.

“The members of the public, especially consumers under Kuching Water Board have the right to know what is the level of lead and other hazardous materials in the water in the dam,” he told a press conference today.

A photo taken in 2009 shows the solar power units used in one of two kampungs in Bengoh.
A photo taken in 2009 shows the solar power units used in one of two kampungs in Bengoh.

Boniface said that villagers from the area had brought this issue up to him recently as they are worried that the water might be contaminated with lead, as lead past the permissible level of 5 microgrammes per deciliter is extremely hazardous to humans.

He said most solar batteries including the lithium-ion types contain lead and all solar batteries used to supply electricity to residential units tend to be heavy and cumbersome, thus making proper disposal difficult.

“PKR is very concerned with this extremely disturbing, albeit unverified information on the batteries.

Boniface said that with the ongoing seepage problem at the Bengoh Dam, the operator of the dam has been discharging water from the dam into the river downstream round-the-clock.

“The discharged water from the dam is finding its way into the Sarawak Kiri River and into the Kuching Water Board water treatment plant at Batu Kitang,” said Boniface, cautioning that the safety of the water consumed by the people in Kuching may have been compromised.

“If indeed the batteries were left to submerge in the lake of the Bengoh Dam and are now leaking lead into the water, there is every possibility that consumers have been consuming water contaminated with lead,” he added.

The RM310 million dam, which became operational at the end of 2015, was fully impounded in August last year. Last month, there was a report saying that the dam was leaking but the authorities assured that it was only ‘seepage’ and they are currently lowering the water level to enable patching work on the affected joint. — DayakDaily