PASIR GUDANG, Johor: A latest bout of air pollution struck Pasir Gudang on Thursday (Jul 18), with 39 students from five schools experiencing breathing difficulties and vomiting.
The incident came just as the Department of Environment (DOE) announced it has identified three chemical-based factories as the likely sources of air pollution in the area last month.
Johor Health, Culture and Heritage Committee chairman Mohd Khuzzan Abu Bakar was quoted as saying by the Star that all affected students had received treatment at Pasir Gudang Health Clinic and Masai Health Clinic.
"However, none of the students were referred to Sultan Ismail Hospital for further medical treatment," he added in a statement.
Mr Mohd Khuzzan added that the Health Department has taken urine samples from the students to determine the cause of the symptoms.
The five affected schools were: Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Tanjung Puteri Resort, SK Kopok, SK Kota Masai, SK Pasir Gudang 4 and SMK Tanjung Puteri Resort.
Pasir Gudang has been hit by a series of pollution incidents.
In March, hundreds of students suffered breathing difficulties after the illegal dumping of chemicals in Sungai Kim Kim.
Three men - a Singaporean and two Malaysians - have been charged in court for disposing chemicals into the river.
Last month, hundreds of students reportedly experienced breathing difficulties and nausea.
The recurring cases of students falling sick, even after schools were closed from Jun 25 to Jun 27, prompted the authorities to monitor the air quality closely and carry out enforcement actions against the factories.
Ms Yeo Bee Yin, the federal minister in-charge of environment said illegal factories in Pasir Gudang would be shut down, while Johor Chief Minister Dr Sahruddin Jamal said the government would look into relocating high-risk chemical factories.
CULPRITS OF JUNE POLLUTION INCIDENT PINPOINTED
On Thursday, DOE’s director-general Norlin Jaafar said the three factories responsible for last month’s incident were found to have high levels of methyl mercaptan.
She said the presence of methyl mercaptan, a colourless gas with a distinct odour, at 134 particles per million (ppm) was above the 40 ppm permissible level.
It was one of the three substances that were detected in the area. The others were acrylonitrile and acrolein but the reading of the two gases were too low to trigger symptoms such as vomiting and breathing difficulties, she said.
The factories were also located within a three-kilometre radius of Sekolah Agama Taman Mawar and SK Pasir Gudang 4. Students from the two schools were among the first to be affected. They had symptoms such as vomiting, nausea and shortness of breath.
"The three factories will stop operations. We are also in the process of completing our investigation before we take action and prosecute them," Ms Norlin told reporters.
The factories were among the 257 other chemical factories that the department had inspected between Jun 20 and July 1.
"From the preliminary records of the Pasir Gudang Municipal Council and the state Land and Mines Office, there were 18 illegal factories operating in Pasir Gudang.
"The rest will be checked later and action will be taken by the relevant agencies," she added.