Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Environmental Issues for Building Engineering Students

  • Some points on the environmental issues in Malaysia that a building engineer should be aware of:

    * Development achievements in Malaysia over the last 35 years [1970-2005] have been rapid
    * Rapid industrialisation and economic growth have transformed Malaysia from a predominantly agricultural country to an industrialised one
    * However such rapid pace of development has detrimental effects on the natural environment.
    * Development without considering the effects on the natural environment and future generation is unethical
  • Some environmental Issues

  • Forest Depletion

    Total area of natural and plantation forest about 61.2%. But fast depleting. In Peninsular Malaysia forest area declined from 69% (1966) to 47% (1990). Major causes include large-scale land development, dam construction, mining, shifting cultivation and logging.
    The tropical closed canopy forests of which Malaysia has a considerable area, contain more than 50% of world’s species. Due to logging and deforestration, a great deal of this diversity has been lost or is being threatened.
  • Wildlife
    The fauna is equally diverse – about 1,000 species of vertebrate and 20,000-80,000 invertebrate species. Many are indegenous. Following forest clearance, many of these will be threatened.
    Erosion is closely associated with deforestration and vegetation clearance on hillslopes best illustrated by steep road cuttings. Many instances of slope failures are being reported in the local media from time to time.

    Water Pollution
    Major sources include organic wastes (sewage and animal wastes), silt from erosion and discharges from industries. Logging activities also contribute to river silting and pollution of water courses. Heavy metals (mercury, lead and zinc) tend to exceed WHO standards for some rivers.
    Marine Pollution
    In coastal areas, oil and grease and suspended solids (largely land based) are major contaminants.
  • Air Pollution
    Major sources include industrial discharges and motor vehicles – often exceeding WHO standards. Regularly threatened by haze and possible acid rain. Becoming more disturbing as local climates have high potential for pollution.

    Heat Island
    Heat island intensity in theorder of 4 degrees Celcius – 6 degrees Celcius influencing air pollution dispersion and energy demand for cooling in urban areas especially in Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley conurbation.
    Toxic and Hazardous Wastes
    In 1991, it was estimated that Malaysian industries generated about 380,000 cu metres of toxic wastes annually. Acids, heavy metal sludge and asbestos accounted for about 59% of these wastes. Metal finishing, textile plants, gas processing, foundaries and metal works and asbestos factories were the major sources, accounting for 77% of total. Disposal sites remained a big problem.

    The Star, 5 December 2006, p. N21:
    “Sewage causing bulk of river pollution”
    Nilai: Sewage is the main cause of river pollution in this country and the public will have to live with it for about 30 years before the problem can be resolved, said Department of Environment (DOE) director-general Datuk Rosnani Ibrahim. She said two-thirds of rivers nationwide were polluted by sewage from households and business premises...in her paper “ Issues and Challenges in Enforcing Environmental Laws and Regulations” at the Environmental Governance Symposium...
    Rosnani said the sewage treatment system presently used by households such as septic tanks and oxidation ponds employed outdated technology...Of the 146 rivers identified nationwide, less than half were clean, while 15 were severely polluted and nine were categorised as dead... In another development, the National Audit Department will be expanding work to cover environment management programmes and projects carried out by the public sector. Auditor-General Tan Sri Ambrin Buang said the continual decline of the environment has made environmental auditing necessary.”
  • "The Hockey Stick Curve"

  • The Hockey Stick is a chart showing the temperature curve of the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1000 years. The curve resembles a hockey stick.
    The hockey stick was created by the scientist Dr. Mann and colleagues in 1999 and was first officially named and introduced in the IPCC Third Assessment Report ‘Climate Change 2001’ of the UNO. Since then, this climate curve has worldwide been considered to be the standard.

    Global emission of CO2

    World Total : 6 billion tonnes in 1996
    United States: 1.43 billion tonnes/ 22.9%
    Europe : 0.87 billion tonnes / 14.5%
    Russia : 0.43 billion tonnes / 7.2%
    China : 0.75 billion tonnes / 13.3%
    Japan : 0.3 billion tonnes / 5%
    Rest of the world : 2.2 billion tonnes / 37.1%
    CO2 emissions from developed /industrialised countries alone amounting to 3.8 billion tonnes or 62.9% !

  • Sources: IPCC, WWW, Greenpeace etc as quoted by M. Sabri Yusof [2000] “International Environmental Law”, Page 52. ILBS: Kuala Lumpur

    Evidence of Global Warming:

    Rain and snow - 10% decrease since 1970
    Sea Levels – 10-25 cm rise in the last 100 years. Expected to rise to 95 cm by 2100.
    Ice cap – retreating
    Glaciers – retreating
    Night-Time temperature – Rising faster than daytime temperatures since 1950
    Near-Surface Ocean and Air Temperature – Up 0.3 – 0.6 degree Celcius since late 19th century. Expected to rise by about 3.5 degrees Celcius by 2100.
  • Sources: IPCC as quoted by M. Sabri Yusof [2000] “International Environmental Law”, Page 49. ILBS: Kuala Lumpur

    Health and the Environment

    Types of pollution and their effects on community health:
    Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) –DDT, Toxaphene, PCBs, Dioxins and Furans, HCB, Chlordane, Dieldrin, Endrin, Aldrin, Mirex, Heptachlor etc.
    Air Pollution – Particulate matter, Oxides of Sulphur, Nitrogen Oxide, Carbon Monoxide, Hydrocarbons, Photochemical Smog, Acid Rain.
    Water Pollution – Domestic, industrial and agricultural; toxic – coliform bacteria, nitrates, mercury (Mina-mata Disease in Japan, 1968), Arsenic (West Bengal), oil pollution.
    Marine Pollution
    Noise Pollution
    Radioactive Pollution – Hiroshima (1945), Chernobyl (Ukraine) in 1986, Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania) in 1979 etc.
    Solid Waste Pollution
    Soil and Land Pollution – acidification, salinization and sodification, heavy metal contaminants, petroleum products as soil pollutants.

    The need for a comprehensive law on environment in Malaysia

    In the early years after independence, environmental problems were considered less important. Little consideration was given to environmental aspects.
    In the 1970s it was realised that available legislation was unable to cope with pollution due to rapid development, especially the pollution produced by modern industries.
    Many individuals/members of the public/groups expressed and continue to express concern about uncontrolled pollution. Among them are:
    the SAM [Sahabat Alam Malaysia]
    CAP [Consumer Association of Penang]
    EPSM [Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia]
    MNS [Malayan Nature Society]
    In 1978 SAM and CAP jointly organized a seminar on “Development and Environmental Crisis in Malaysia”
    The general public became aware of the problem as it was well publicised in the media. As the pressure mounted, it was therefore imperative that a proper management of the environment could only be achieved through a comprehensive legislation.
    The Environmental Quality Act [EQA] was conceived and passed by the Parliament in 1974
    Before this, environmental-related laws were not designed to address environmental problems but to promote sound practices in specific sectors. These laws were reactive in nature.
    The process of environmental-related action began in 1894 with the introduction of the Straits Settlement Ordinance No.3 [1894] which protected several species of wild birds.
    [Differentiate between Ordinance, Enactment and Act]

    There are several sources of Malaysian Environmental law. These are the statutes [the primary source]; subsidiary legislations; environmental guidelines provided by the Department of Environment; National Environmental Policy; International initiatives; and Environmental Law Principles.
    n Among the statutes are:
    n Straits Settlement Ordinance No.3 1894 (Protection of Certain Birds)
    n Waters Enactment, Chapter 146, 1920 (Revised 1989)
    n Mining Enactment, Chapter 147, 1929
    n Mining Rules, 1934
    n Forest Enactment, Chapter 153, 1935
    n Natural Resources Ordinance, 1949
    n Poisons Ordinance, 1952
    n Merchant Shipping Ordinance, 1952
    n Sale of Food and Drugs Ordinance, No. 28, 1952
    n Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, No.30, 1952
    n Federation Port Rules, 1953
    n Irrigation Areas Ordinance, No.31, 1953
    n Drainage Works Ordinance, No.1, 1954
    n Explosive Ordinance, 1957
    n The Road Traffic Ordinance, 1958
    n Land Conservation Act, Act 3, 1960
    n National Land Code, Act 56, 1965
    n Housing Development Act (Licensing and Control), 1965
    n Radioactive Substances Act, Act 17, 1968
    n Civil Aviation Act, Act 3, 1969
    n Malaria Eradication Act, Act 52, 1971
    n Continental Shelf Act, Act 83, 1966 (Revised 1972)
    n Petroleum Mining Act, Act 95, 1972
    n City of Kuala Lumpur (Planning) Act, Act 107, 1973
    n Environmental Quality Act, Act 127, 1974 (Revised 1996)
    n Geological Survey Act, Act 129, 1974
    n Street, Drainage and Building Act, Act 133, 1974
    n Factories and Machinery Act, 1967 (Revised 1974)
    n Pesticides Act, Act 149, 1974
    n Destruction of Disease-Bearing Insects Act, Act 154, 1975
    n Municipal and Town Boards (Amendment) Act, Act A289, 1975
    n The Protection of Wildlife Act, Act 76 1972 (Revised 1976)
    n Antiquities Act, Act 168, 1976
    n Local Government Act, Act 171, 1976
    n Town and Country Planning Act, Act 172, 1976
    n National Parks Act, Act 226, 1980
    n Malaysian Highway Authority Act, Act 231, 1980
    n Pig Rearign Enactment, 1980
    n Atomic Energy Licensing Act, Act 304, 1984
    n Exclusive Economic Zone Act, Act 311, 1984
    n National Forestry Act, Act 313, 1984
    n Fisheries Act, 1963, Act 317 (Revised 1985)
    n Sewerage Services Act, Act 508, 1993
    n Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution) Act, Act 515, 1994
    n Mineral Development Act, Act 525, 1994
    n Among these statutes, the major legislation is the Environmental Quality Act, Act 127, 1974 (Revised 1996). It is being described as a comprehensive legislation relating to environmental management. It provides for control of p[ollution through licensing.

    Environmental guidelines are provided by the Department of Environment pertaining to specific matters. For example there are guidelines in the implementation of environmental impact assessment ; guidelines to prevent and control soil erosion and sediments for activities like building and construction of roads, logging, agriculture, mining and quarrying; and guidelines to control emissions from oil palm factories.
    These guidelines contain the manner in which a particular activity ought to be conducted. They also contain specifications on operations requiring written permission from the respective authorities and outlines on the steps to be taken to prevent environmental degradation. These guidelines are not mandatory in nature. Nevertheless they provide guidance for various interested parties wishing to engage in particular activities affecting the environment.

    National Environmental Policy

    Approved by the Cabinet on 2 October 2002
    The management and conservation of the environment in Malaysia is implemented within the context of sustainable development, which embodies the 3 pillars; economic development, social development and environmental protection.
    Policy statement: “For continuous economic, social and cultural progress and enhancement of the quality of life of Malaysians, through environmentally sound and sustainable development.”

    To achieve:
    A clean, safe, healthy and productive environment for present and future generations.
    Conservation of the country’s unique and diverse cultural and natural heritage with effective participation by all sector of society.
    Sustainable lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production.

    The guiding principles are complemented and reenforced by the ongoing research and multilateral commitments through international initiatives, agreements, resolutions or declarations as follows:

    International initiatives on the environment:

    n The Club of Rome [MIT, USA] Limits to growth” Report 1972
    n The Stolkholm Conference on Human Environment, 1972;
    n The Manila Declaration, 1981;
    n UNEP Conference, 1982
    n The Bangkok Declaration, 1984;
    n The Jakarta Resolution, 1987;
    n The Manila Summit Declaration, 1987
    n The Brundtland Report, 1987
    n The Langkawi Declaration, 1989
    n The Kuala Lumpur Accord on Environment and Development, 1990
    n Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro, 1992
    n Kyoto Protocol, 1997
    n Aarhus Protocol, 1998
    n Montreal INC Meeting, 1998
    n Stern Report on Global Warming, October 2006
    n Nairobi UN Climate Talks, November 2006
    n Al Gore’s Feature Film on “The Inconvenient Truth” 2006
    n The United Nations Environment Programme – General Environmental Outlook 4 [GEO-4 ]Report November 2007
    n International Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] – Synthesis Report November 2007
    n The United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Bali in December 2007 [to follow closely!]

    n The most important declarations are the Brundtland Report 1987, the Earth Summit in Rio de Janerio 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol 1997

    Brundtland Report on Sustainability
    The Report of the Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future, deals with sustainable development and the change of politics needed for achieving that. The definition of this term in the report is quite well known and often cited:
    "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brundtland_Commission

    The Kyoto Protocol

    According to a press release from the United Nations Environment Programme:

  • "The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement under which industrialised countries will reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2% compared to the year 1990 (but note that, compared to the emissions levels that would be expected by 2010 without the Protocol, this target represents a 29% cut). The goal is to lower overall emissions of six greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs - calculated as an average over the five-year period of 2008-12. National targets range from 8% reductions for the European Union and some others to 7% for the US, 6% for Japan, 0% for Russia, and permitted increases of 8% for Australia and 10% for Iceland."
  • What are (1) “Emissions Trading” and (2) “Carbon Credits” (3) Carbon Footprints?

    International Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] – Synthesis Report 2007 launced by the United Nations
  • Secretary-General in Valencia on 17 November 2007.The report is a synthesis of three reports [on the science, the impact of and policies to mitigate climate change]
    The report involved 2,500 scientific expert reviewers, 1,250 authors and policy makers from over 130 countries.
    The report’s main message is that warming of the climate system is “unequivocal” and this is accompanied by increasing global air and ocean temperatures, rising global average sea level and reduction of snow and ice.
    One of the alarming effects is the increasing rate in global sea level rise, from 1.8mm a year to 3.1mm a year from 1961 to 1993. This is due to thermal expansion and the melting of glaciers, ice caps and the polar ice sheets. The projected sea level rise at the end of the 21st Century will be 18-59cm

    The impacts by regions: Africa by 2020, between 75 million and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to increased water stress. Yields from rain-fed agriculture would be reduced by 50%.
    Asia by 2050, freshwater availability in large river basins is projected to decrease. Increased flooding in heavily populated mega-delta regions. Endemic morbidity and mortality due to diarrhoeal disease associated with floods and droughts are expected to increase due to changes in the hydrological cycle.
    Also projected: An increase of global emissions by 25%-90% between 2000 and 2030, if nothing is done. A warming of about 0.2 degree Celsius per decade

    The universal principles upon which environmental law is guided are:

  • Sustainable development – [See the Brundtland Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development or WCED]. This principle was adopted by the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development [UNCED] in Rio de Janeiro
    Polluters pay principle – This is an economic policy principle where the polluter is given the responsibility to undertake the cost or bear the expenses of repairing any damage caused by the incidence of pollution. It has been endorsed and adopted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]. [Refer to section 47(1) of the EQA 1974]
    Precautionary principle – [ “a prior worry of care”] This principle promotes caution to be exercised when considering any projects to be implemented where there are indications that grave and irreparable damage could be done to the environment.
    Best practical means and good governance – This subjective principle may well integrate both a scientific and discretionary approach. It depends on technical, social and economic factors. [Refer to Section 21 of the EQA 1974 under the clause “acceptable conditions”.

    The Environmental Quality Act 1974

    The EQA 1974 forms the basic instrument for achieving the national environmental objectives.
    The EQA 1974 went through several tests: certain provisions worked well; some not too satisfactorily; others difficult to enforce without amendments.
    The EQA 1974 was amended twice, first in 1985 and then in 1996.
    There are 8 Parts and 72 sections in the EQA 1974
    Complementing the Act are 18 Regulations, 2 rules and 15 orders.


  • Section 2
    “Environment” means the physical factors of the surroundings of human beings including land, water, atmosphere, climate, sound, odour, taste, the biological factors of animals and plants and the social factor of aesthetics.”

  • “Environmental Management System” means a system comprising of an organizational structure with its responsibilities, practices, procedures, processes and resources for implementing and maintaining the system relating to the management of the environment.
  • “Environmentally Hazardous Substances” means any natural or artificial substances including any raw material, whether in a solid, semi-solid or liquid form, or in the form of gas or vapour, or in a mixture of at least two of these substances, or any living organism intended for any environmental protection, conservation and control activity, which can cause pollution.”
  • “Pollutants” means any natural or artificial substances, whether in a solid, semi-solid or liquid form, or in the form of gas or vapour, or in a mixture of at least two of these substances, or any objectionable odour or noise or heat emitted, discharged or deposited from any sources which can directly or indirectly cause pollution and includes any environmentally hazardous substances.
  • “Pollution” means any direct or indirect alteration of the physical, thermal, chemical or biological properties of any part of the environment by discharging, emitting, or depositing environmentally hazardous substances, pollutants, wastes so as to affect any beneficial use adversely, to cause a condition which is hazardous or potentially hazardous to public health, safety, or welfare, or to animals, birds, wildlife, fish or aquatic life, or to plants or to cause a contravention of any condition, limitation, or restriction to which a license under this Act is subject.

    What is green development?

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