JAKARTA, Indonesia — The Indonesian government, stung by a record which saw burning plastic for gasoline is poisoning residents in an East Java village, is permitting the prohibited burning to last while it disturbs the ecological study.
Tofu manufacturers from the village, Tropodo, who’ve burned waste plastic to fuel their own kitchen boilers, have seen sales plummet in recent weeks on fears that dioxin, a toxic compound, generated in the flames will be contaminating their tofu.
Instead of apply a ban on the burning of scrap plastic, a lot of that came until lately from the USA, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry made a board of Indonesian specialists to counter the report published last month from Indonesian and international environmental groups.
In a press conference, officials stated the Tropodo evaluation was flawed because it relied upon analyzing dioxin levels in poultry eggs. Eggs are widely employed for analyzing contamination since cows efficiently sample the dirt since they forage and toxins accumulate in their eggs.
“Chickens are intelligent,” said one government specialist, Mochamad Lazuardi, a professor of veterinary medicine at Airlangga University in the town of Surabaya. “They won’t eat something poisonous.”
Indonesia prohibits the open burning of waste however, the law is widely flouted by taxpayers and trash dump operators equally who generally burn plastic alongside other trash.
Indonesian officials have failed environmental issues for the sake of economic growth and one outcome has been widespread contamination by toxic substances like dioxin, mercury and lead.
Dioxin is one of the most hazardous known chemicals and can cause cancer, birth defects and Parkinson’s disease.
Testing by the environmental groups found one sample in Tropodo that contained the second-highest level of dioxin ever found in Asia.
The Tropodo dioxin study was conducted by four environmental groups: Ecoton and the Nexus3 Foundation, based in Indonesia; Arnika, based in Prague; and the International Pollutants Elimination Network or IPEN, a global network dedicated to eliminating toxic pollutants.
Samples they collected in Tropodo and the nearby village of Bangun, where plastic waste is sorted and burned, were tested at laboratories in three European countries.
The environment ministry officials and three Indonesian university professors who will conduct the government study challenged the validity of the original test and questioned whether the egg samples were cracked and contaminated externally.
The study’s authors stood by their findings. Thy said none of the egg samples were cracked or tainted and encouraged the government to put an end to plastic burning as soon as possible.
“It would be prudent to halt plastic burning, as our data indicates that more plastic burning will result in more dioxin formation and pollution,” the study’s authors said in a statement.
But one government official indicated that a ban on burning plastic would not be enforced until it was clear how it would affect the local economy.
“It is clear that open burning is not allowed,” said Novrizal Tahar, the director of waste management at the environment ministry. “But we need to conduct a social economy study in Tropodo.”
The findings of the environmental groups caused widespread concern in East Java over the safety of eggs and tofu produced in the area.
To reassure the public that eggs were safe to eat, the governor of East Java Province, Khofifah Indar Parawansa, and dozens of members of the provincial parliament stood and ate boiled eggs together at a recent session.
In Tropodo, some tofu makers said they would switch to wood for their fuel.
“They are upset because the demand for tofu has fallen due to the issue of dioxin,” Mr. Novrizal said. “Therefore, they issued a statement that they would switch and not use plastic waste anymore as their fuel.”
But it was unclear how many tofu makers actually made the change.
Black smoke consistent with burning plastic continued to bellow last week from many of the chimneys that tower over the village. Several tofu makers who had switched to wood fuel allowed a journalist to see their operations and take photos but many others refused to allow access to their kitchens.
Some of the plastic trash burned by the tofu makers came from the United States and other countries, where it was initially intended for recycling but was improperly shipped to Indonesia as paper waste.
In an effort to reduce the amount of plastic being burned, Mr. Novrizal said Indonesia has sent 883 containers of foreign waste back to their countries of origin.
Environmentalists say that the government’s handling of toxic pollution in Tropodo is a troublesome sign given its plans to build a dozen waste-to-energy incinerators in major cities around the country.
Four of the incinerators would be in greater Jakarta, already one of the world’s most polluted cities.
Under the government’s plan, the amount of dioxin produced by the incinerators would be monitored once every five years, compared to the European standard of twice a year.
Critics of the plan said it would increase air pollution and create large amounts of ash containing dioxin and other toxic chemicals.
“Operating an incinerator without dioxin monitoring is like driving with your eyes closed,” said the Tropodo study authors.
Dera Menra Sijabat contributed reporting.