JOHOR BAHRU: Malaysian police have arrested nine people over the illegal dumping of chemical waste into Sungai Kim Kim, which caused a wave of poisoning cases in Pasir Gudang.
Two of the suspects were detained in Johor on Sunday, while the other seven were caught outside the southern state, said police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun on Monday (Mar 18).
"We cannot reveal their age and where they were detained as this could jeopardise our investigation on the case," he was quoted as saying by the Star.
They will be remanded for six days from Monday, he added.
The police chief also said that the case is being investigated under Section 278 of the Penal Code for making the atmosphere noxious to health, under Section 284 for negligent conduct with respect to any poisonous substance, as well as Section 326 for voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means.
Two schools - Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Pasir Putih and Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Pasir Putih - were first ordered to shut on Mar 7, after students and school employees breathed in toxic fumes from chemicals that were illegally dumped in the nearby Sungai Kim Kim.
A second wave of poisoning hit just hours after the two schools re-opened on Mar 11.
Two days later, all 111 schools in Pasir Gudang were ordered shut by the education ministry.
At the height of the pollution crisis, more than 2,700 were affected by the toxic fumes.
There were previous reports that three men were detained, but Mr Mohamad Fuzi clarified last Friday that no one had been arrested.
On Sunday, 29 people remained in hospital. This was down from 120 people the day before.
Johor Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman Sahruddin Jamal said on Monday that four people were still in the intensive care unit and they were reported to be in stable condition.
In a statement, Dr Sahruddin said 30 teams under the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change will be mobilised to monitor air quality at 42 schools within a five to nine kilometre radius from Sungai Kim Kim.
He said portable gas detectors will be used by the monitoring teams to ensure that the air quality in the affected areas is safe. “Five parameters to be monitored are for oxygen, carbon monoxide, low exposure limit, volatile organic compound and hydrogen sulfide,” he said.
The authorities said over the weekend that cleaning works for a 1.5km stretch of the river has been completed.
SCHOOLS TO REMAIN CLOSED UNTIL MAR 30
Earlier in the day, Education Minister Maszlee Malik said that all schools in Pasir Gudang will remain closed until the end of mid-term break on Mar 30.
He said the decision was made after a briefing with the authorities and experts. “Following the briefing, it was decided that the schools could not reopen yet. The decision was taken as a precautionary measure," he said in a press conference.
According to Dr Maszlee, the ministry will decide if the schools can reopen after the mid-term break.
"Our main concern now is the safety and health of students and school staff," he stated.
In the state of Johor, the scheduled mid-term break is from Mar 22 to Mar 30.