PUTRAJAYA: The latest incident of pollution that sickened students in the Johor town of Pasir Gudang is due to chemical waste from Sungai Kim Kim, said Malaysia's housing and local government minister Zuraida Kamaruddin on Monday (Jun 24).
An initial investigation found that the cleaning contractor assigned to clear chemical waste that had been illegally dumped into the river earlier this year did not do a thorough job, she told reporters.
“As the hazardous materials have been exposed to wind and rain, the uncontrolled airborne substances may have spread and affected the people once again,” the minister added.
In March, thousands fell ill after an illegal dumping of chemical waste into the Kim Kim River in Pasir Gudang, Johor. Many were hospitalised, including students at nearby schools. More than 100 schools were ordered shut as a result. Nine people were later arrested.
Zuraida said her ministry has informed the country's Department of Environment about the matter to ensure the immediate removal of the toxic materials.
"The Johor government has also been informed to see to the proper disposal of the chemical waste,” she said.
Deputy minister for energy, science, technology, environment and climate change Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis, however, said separately that the latest incident is different from that of the Sungai Kim Kim incident.
"All the waste taken previously from Sungai Kim Kim had been disposed off by incineration on Apr 8,” she told reporters after attending a briefing at the Pasir Gudang Municipal Council Indoor Stadium on Monday.
She added that the pollutant was suspected to be dispersed through the process of evaporation as a result of the hot weather and topographical conditions in Pasir Gudang and the southwest monsoon winds blowing from the south.
Asked whether the chemical causing the pollution had been identified, Isnaraissah said it had yet to be identified.
Johor's chief minister Sahruddin Jamal said the relevant agency was in the final stage of establishing the chemical concerned, and that 30 chemical factories had been shortlisted from 265 factories in Pasir Gudang for investigation into whether they were related to the latest pollution incident.
"The Environment Department will investigate and if the chemical is similar to that which had caused the breathing difficulties and vomiting in the students, we will order the factories to cease their operations," he said.
The latest pollution incident surfaced last Thursday after 15 students from a school in Pasir Gudang suffered breathing difficulties and vomiting.
As of Sunday, one polytechnic, 16 schools and 69 kindergartens under the Education ministry had been ordered to close until Thursday.
Dr Sahruddin said that blood samples taken from 15 victims tested negative for acrylonitrile, acrolein and cyanide; the tests were taken in view of the Sungai Kim Kim pollution incident three months back.
A total of 75 individuals were referred to Sultan Ismail Hospital on Monday, of which four were warded.
The chief minister said the state government had proposed for all schools in Pasir Gudang to be closed from Tuesday to Thursday as a precautionary measure.
Isnaraissah said that “the monitoring radius (from the first location where the incident occurred in Sekolah Agama Taman Mawar) has also been extended to 15km”.
The fire and rescue department's (JBPM) director-general Mohammad Hamdan Wahid said on Monday that the air quality reading in the area still at a poor level, despite being quite a distance from Sungai Kim Kim.
He said JBPM would continue to collaborate with the environment department, local authorities and the state government to manage the situation and would keep the public informed of the latest developments.