JOHOR BAHRU: Johor Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar has described the latest pollution incident in Pasir Gudang, which resulted in more than 700 people seeking medical treatment, as “despicable and a total disgrace”.
In a hard-hitting interview published by the Star on Friday (Jun 28), the royal said he would be summoning state leaders and federal bodies to account for the incident.
“We were assured that all was all right (after the Sungai Kim Kim incident in March) and we heard the politicians and officials issuing us assurances but barely three months later, the people of Johor are faced with this issue again,” he said.
“This is despicable and a total disgrace.”
He said the latest incident reflected “complete flaws and weaknesses, if not incompetence” in the state and federal disaster management systems. “I do not want to be hoodwinked again and again by empty assurances,” he added.
READ: 15 students in Pasir Gudang fall ill over possible poison gas exposure: Malaysia health minister
The sultan added that he plans to propose that the state government relocate industries causing negative environmental impact.
“(These industries) endangered not just the people of Johor but also Singaporeans,” he noted.
He also pointed out that a plastic factory was allowed to operate in the southern state, despite being rejected by other states over environmental concerns.
“I don’t care about the so-called economic value of these toxic industries as I am only concerned about the health of Johoreans. That is far more important than money,” he stated.
In March, thousands fell ill after illegal dumping of chemical waste into Sungai Kim Kim. Many were hospitalised, including students at nearby schools.
The latest round of pollution happened last Thursday when students experienced similar symptoms of breathing difficulties and vomiting, sparking fear of another pollution of the same severity.
All schools in Pasir Gudang were ordered to close for three days starting Tuesday.
THREE GASES DETECTED IN PASIR GUDANG: ENVIRONMENT MINISTER
Meanwhile, federal ministries are still grappling with the cause of the incident and drawing up measures to prevent their recurrence.
In a press conference in Putrajaya on Friday, Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said authorities have detected the presence of three types of gas – methyl mercaptan, acrylonitrile and acrolein – in Pasir Gudang.
She said it was an anomaly for the air to contain methyl mercaptan, adding that it would have a negative impact on high-risk groups such as asthmatic children and young kids.
However, she stressed that these three gases were not detected in the blood and urine samples of the patients.
“Therefore, there is no 100 per cent confirmation on the cause-and-effect links (between the presence of these gases and the illness suffered by the people),” she said.
Reiterating that the town planning of Pasir Gudang was not sustainable – with one school located as close as 300m away from the factories – Ms Yeo said the Johor state government will make announcements to address this issue.
Among others, automated air quality monitoring stations will be built in Pasir Gudang hopefully by end of the year, she said.
A meeting will also be held on Monday with operators of chemical factories, which accounted for 250 out of the 2,005 factories in Pasir Gudang, Ms Yeo said.
“We are going to discuss precautionary steps we can take to avoid this, and how do we carry out monitoring holistically.
“The chemical industries need to be more responsible to ensure that public health is taken care of,” she said.
Giving a summary of the situation, Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said four new cases of breathing difficulties were recorded on Thursday, bringing the total number of people treated to 748 since last Thursday.
Of the total, 709 people received outpatient treatment while 39 were hospitalised, he added.