JOHOR BAHRU: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stressed on Thursday (Mar 14) that there was no need to declare an emergency in the wake of the toxic waste pollution in Pasir Gudang, which has affected more than 2,700 people.
However, he reminded all quarters to exercise more caution in view of the ongoing crisis.
“No … it has not reached that stage (where an emergency has to be declared). There is no need for any evacuation, but we must be careful," Dr Mahathir said, when asked if there was need to declare an emergency for Pasir Gudang or evacuation of residents there.
“Those mobilised to contain the situation must also be prepared to handle the problem,” he told reporters after visiting victims who have been admitted to the Sultan Ismail Hospital.
“We cannot say the worst is over," he said.
“On the other hand, we don’t think it is going to be more serious than now. But what is important is that they know how to handle this problem.”
Dr Mahathir also praised the agencies under the State Disaster Management Committee, highlighting the medical and security teams' efficiency in tackling the crisis and preventing it from becoming worse.
“I found from the briefings I was given by various parties that they had carried out their duties well even though such a situation has never happened before (in the country). The Fire and Rescue Department, police, hospitals, schools, and others handled the situation admirably,” he said.
He also praised the doctors and medical staff for their “extraordinary response” in the face of this gas poisoning incident.
CLEANING CONTRACTOR WORSENED THE PROBLEM
Initial cleaning works on Mar 8 had inadvertently worsened the chemical reaction at the affected location, causing a spike in the number of people affected, said the National Disaster Management Agency.
According to the New Straits Times, Terbrau MP Steven Choong Shiau Yoon said that the first contractor, which was appointed by the district office, was not experienced in dealing with chemical waste.
“After informing the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment, and Climate Change Ministry (of the problem), I was instructed to form a special committee with relevant government agencies to ensure a smooth cleaning process," said Mr Choong.
“A contractor was appointed at the time to start on the cleaning process, but the state Health Department informed me that the contractor had no experience in cleaning up such chemical waste."
The contractor has since ceased operations.
Three new contractors have been appointed by the Department of Environment to continue cleaning efforts.
ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY ACT MAY BE REVIEWED
Dr Mahathir also said he has not ruled out the possibility that the Environmental Quality Act 1974 would be reviewed in light of the incident.
This follows an outcry from the public that the punishment for those found guilty for offences under the Act are not severe enough.
"We take note of that, usually we face water or solid-based contamination, but this is gas contamination, something we have not dealt with," he told reporters at the Sultan Ismail Hospital on Thursday.
"We will study whether the Act should be strengthened."
Three suspects have been detained by the Department of Environment under the Environmental Quality Act 1974 in connection with the contamination.
If convicted, they face a maximum jail sentence of five years and a maximum fine of RM500,000.