Poison in the Marunda Sky

Eleven thousand residents in North Jakarta are exposed to air pollution due to coal loading and unloading activities. The World Health Organization (WHO) recorded that the deaths of global citizens due to air pollution reach 7 million cases every year.
Photo & Text:
Muhammad Zaenuddin
Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Residents of Marunda simple rental flats (Rusunawa), Cilincing, North Jakarta often complain of health problems, such as coughing, shortness of breath, eye pain, and skin irritation. This is due to air pollution from coal loading and unloading activities by PT Karya Citra Nusantara (KCN) in the Marunda Port area. The Marunda Rusunawa Community Forum (FMRM) has repeatedly carried out protests demanding the resolution of this problem since 2019. As a result, the DKI Jakarta Provincial Government only revoked PT KCN’s environmental permit on June 20, 2022.

Coal loading and unloading activities by PT KCN in Marunda Beach area, Cilincing, North Jakarta

The license revocation is based on the Decree of the Head of the North Jakarta Environmental Agency Number 21 of 2022. The decree contains the Aggravation of the Application of Administrative Sanctions in the form of Revocation of Environmental Permit for Loading and Unloading Activities by PT KCN. Previously, PT KCN operated based on the Decree of the Head of the North Jakarta Environmental Management Office Number 56 of 2014 Dated January 28, 2014.

The south side of the Rusunawa is the most affected by coal pollution because it is directly facing coal loading and unloading activities.

However, the provision of revocation sanctions alone is not enough. There needs to be seriousness from the government to restore environmental losses, health and welfare of Marunda residents affected by coal dust. PT KCN’s loading and unloading activities should no longer operate.

Coal dust settles on the windows of a house in Rusunawa Marunda, Cilincing, Jakarta.

Air pollution is a real environmental problem. WHO, the World Health Organization, records that premature deaths due to air pollution reach 7 million cases per year. These deaths are the result of air pollution through strokes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections.

Detty Revolyatuti (66), one of the residents of Rusunawa Marunda, still has to fight against her illness. The woman, who has lived in Marunda for five years, had to be taken to the hospital due to shortness of breath and severe coughing. The doctor said there were spots in her lungs due to exposure to poor air quality.

Detty started experiencing this illness since last January. Since then, every time she leaves the house and even when she sleeps, she does not remove the mask covering her mouth and nose. “So far, thank God, the government has responded to the residents’ lawsuit. But, it is unfortunate that there are still coal loading and unloading activities at the port,” he said.

Rouli Sianipar (50) also experienced the same thing. This woman from North Sumatra has to spend more to provide protection for her family. She and her family are still coughing frequently. “It’s not too bad now because our lawsuit has been responded to. However, sometimes we still feel [the impact of pollution]. The children’s skin often develops bumps,” she continued.

Detty and Rouli’s conclusions are based solely on their experience of living for five years alongside PT KCN’s coal loading and unloading activities. Launching from, several studies show the same conclusion about the impact of air pollution from coal dust. Research by Harvard University and Greenpeace several years ago revealed the premature death of thousands to tens of thousands of people.

A number of children play in the Child Friendly Integrated Public Space (RPRTA) of Rusunawa Marunda.
Rouli Sianipar (50) shows the coal dust deposits that stick to his fingers after his activities in the Rusunawa Marunda area.
Some residents in the Marunda Beach area. This area is directly opposite the coal loading and unloading activities at Marunda Port.

Coal contains toxic elements including heavy metals and radioactivity. When coal is burned in power plants, these toxic elements are concentrated in the combustion products as fly ash and solid ash. When this ash interacts with water, it can slowly leach toxic elements including arsenic, boron, cadmium, hexavelant chromium, lead, mercury, radium, selenium and thalium into the environment.

Two studies from ACS Omega and Atmospheric Environment in 2018, compiled by the civil society coalition Bersihkan Indonesia, show the potential dangers of heavy metal leaching from various uses of fly ash and bottom ash (FABA) mixtures in cement. Cement with a mixture of FABA exposed to water has the potential to release various heavy metals, especially considering that the concentration of heavy metals in FABA can be 4-10 times higher than the content of coal produced. In addition, the potential for mercury emissions from the use of cement mixed with FABA is very significant, directly proportional to high temperatures and humidity.

Another study came from Global Pacific Health in 2017 that showed the dangers of FABA for children. When children are exposed to FABA, they will be prone to health problems and significant sleep disturbances. FABA is a small particulate form that is easily inhaled and enters the lung tissue. According to this study, in addition to causing inflammation in the lung tissue, FABA exposure can also lead to related organ failure and low cognitive abilities.

Detty Revolyatuti (66) shows the X-ray results of her lungs. The woman, who has lived in Marunda for five years, had to be brought to the hospital due to her severe coughing and shortness of breath.

The doctor said there were spots on his lungs due to exposure to poor air quality.

Detty has been suffering from this illness since last January. Until now, he is still struggling against the pain he suffered

For five years living side by side with Marunda Port, which is a coal loading and unloading terminal, Cecep Supriyadi alias Cepi has felt how coal dust has increasingly affected the community around the flat in the last two years.

Not only health, the loading and unloading activities also displace residents’ sources of income. Practically, it erodes the productive land of the community outside the flat, where most of the residents relocated from the eviction live. Initially promised a decent life, the evicted residents of Jakarta instead had to accept the bitter pill of living in coal dust. “There is a lot of pressure. It’s like falling down the stairs,” he said.

During this pandemic, residents are even more vulnerable to living in the midst of polluted air. When the government asks people to maintain cleanliness and health to avoid the COVID-19 virus, Cepi said, the government seems to allow air pollution in our area. In fact, even though its license has been revoked, the company continues to operate until now.

A pile of coal covered with tarpaulin belonging to PT Karya Citra Nusantara (KCN) at Marunda Port.

According to Cepi, people affected by dust pollution were promised a better life. Cepi asks where a decent life is for us, small people who rarely receive guarantees from health, so that in the future their children can breathe clean air.

Not only Detty, Rouli, and Cepi, until now around 11 thousand residents who live about two kilometers from the port area are also still exposed to black dust. Most residents complain that coal loading and unloading is still operating there.

Marunda is only one of many areas that intersect with coal. The impact of coal is clearly visible from upstream to downstream. The government should have the responsibility to restore the negative impacts of the coal industry in all regions in Indonesia and no longer depend on this environmentally destructive industry. Outside of Indonesia, many countries have declared war to fight this pollution and curb the increase in global warming.

Residents are active in the Marunda Beach area, which is directly opposite the coal unloading site at Marunda Port.

Coal dust can be seen on the walls of the hallway of the Marunda Rusunawa complex.


Muhammad Zaenuddin

A photojournalist from Jakarta who is interested in environmental issues and social change. At the Anugerah Pewarta Foto Indonesia 2022, his story was selected as the Best Photo Essay in the General News category.

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