JOHOR BAHRU: The number of people affected by illegal dumping of toxic waste into a river in Pasir Gudang, Johor rose to 207 as of Monday night (Mar 11).
The latest figure comes after two schools in the area were ordered to close earlier in the day, for the second time in five days, after students and teachers experienced breathing difficulties.
READ: Pasir Gudang methane poisoning: 2 schools closed again after students report breathing difficulties
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 methane fumes from chemicals that were illegally dumped in the nearby Sungai Kim Kim.
Over the weekend, at least 82 people were hospitalised or sought treatment.
A second wave of methane poisoning hit just hours after the schools re-opened on Monday. As in the first incident, victims complained of shortness of breath and vomiting.
This was “unexpected and regrettable”, said Johor chief minister Osman Sapian in a statement on Tuesday. He explained that the authorities had earlier decided to re-open the schools after evaluating that the air quality near them was safe.
The chief minister added that he has instructed the management committee for regional disaster assistance to ensure that all schools near the affected river remain closed until it is truly safe for students and teachers to return to their lessons.
Environment officials are currently working with the fire and rescue department on cleanup work, he added.
“As at 11pm, 29 people have been sent to health clinics nearby for examination while 77 victims were referred to Sultan Ismail Hospital (HSI), in which 35 were warded for further treatment," said Dr Selahuddeen Abd Aziz, Johor's health director, in a statement on Monday.
"Out of the 35, four patients were warded in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). With 16 patients from the first wave allowed to return home, the total number of patients still warded at HSI now stands at 44 (six in ICU and 38 in normal ward)."
The 44 patients at HSI comprise 11 adult patients and 33 students, added Dr Selahhuddeen.
Three men, including two factory owners, were detained on Monday on suspicion of disposing chemical waste into Sungai Kim Kim.
Schools and residents are advised to seek treatment if they experience symptoms of breathing difficulties, said Dr Selahhuddeen.
Members of the public are advised to avoid entering the affected area until further notice.