The first significant and extensive study of river and fish pollution in Malaysia

The degradation of the natural environment can increase the incidence of cancers, respiratory problems and birth defects. Green ergonomics is a new concept and was developed to explore the connection of humans with nature and how it facilitates well-being, health, productivity and effectiveness.

The studies conducted by the Department of Economics, School of Business, Monash University Malaysia examines how humans in the agriculture, industry and household sectors generate pollutants that move beyond the boundaries of their workplaces and degrade river water quality and fish health, causing a deterioration in the overall human well-being in Malaysia. Their research on river and fish pollution is one of the first significant and extensive studies of Malaysian river pollution.

Arsenic, mercury and selenium were present in the samples taken from the Langat River Basin (LRB) and Klang River Basin (KRB), with the contents readings exceeding permissible national and international standards. The concentration of lead and arsenic in muscles of fish samples from KRB were above the maximum permitted levels. The main cause of this heavy metal pollution is discharge of inadequately treated wastewater from industry into river water. Rivers are polluted by sewage, septic tanks, discharges from oil palm mills, logging, food processing, and semiconductor and chemical factories in the vicinity.

Ingestion of heavy metal over a long period of time can be detrimental towards health. Arsenic causes skin ulcerations, cancer, neurotoxicity and cardiovascular diseases; mercury may cause cardiovascular disease and affect the central nervous system; selenium causes thyroid hormone problems; and lead absorption may lead to lessened cognitive development and brain cancer.

A socio-economic survey conducted on the inhabitants of the LRB and KRB showed that some residents suffered from chronic illnesses such as heart disease, asthma and cancer.

A green ergonomics approach can provide us with useful insights into sustainable relationships between humans and ecology in facilitating human well-being in consideration of the overall performance of the social-ecological system. Heavy metal concentrations contained in the effluents pollute river water and contaminate fish, eventually creating significant health risks and economic costs for residents, including the polluters.

The contribution of this study is threefold. It provides insights on the usefulness of the human factors and ergonomics (HFE) framework to understand river pollution and the implications for the future; extends and adds to the repertoire of ergonomic studies in the country and provides a comprehensive understanding of the physical, economic, political, institutional and social dimensions of river pollution.

Policy interventions to change human behaviour and achieve greater collaboration between various levels of government, academia, civil society, and businesses can be looked into to help establish sustainable relationships between humans and ecology in Malaysia.