Pasir Gudang methane poisoning: 2,775 people affected; no state of emergency for now

Pasir Gudang methane poisoning: 2,775 people affected; no state of emergency for now

Pasir Gudang methane poisoning Kim Kim River
Methane fumes from Sungai Kim Kim caused students and teachers from nearby schools to experience shortness of breath and vomiting. (Photo: Bernama)

JOHOR BAHRU: A total of 2,775 people have been affected by the toxic waste pollution in Pasir Gudang as of Thursday (Mar 14) afternoon. 

There have been 1,906 cases reported at two medical bases in Pasir Gudang, and another 869 victims who received treatment in various hospitals and clinics in Johor Bahru, said the state's Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman Dr Sahruddin Jamal. 

Seven victims are in the intensive care unit, according to Bernama. 

READ: No need to declare state of emergency in Pasir Gudang, says Mahathir

Pasir Gudang methane poisoning Sungai Kim Kim cleaning works
Putrajaya has sent the police, the military, hazmat teams and the fire department among other agencies to help deal with the problem in Pasir Gudang. (Photo: Twitter/Osman Sapian)

The number of people being treated for symptoms of methane poisoning has increased steadily since the pollution was first reported on Mar 7, when students and teachers from two schools suffered shortness of breath, dizziness and vomiting.

The education ministry on Wednesday ordered all 111 schools in Pasir Gudang to shut, amid the growing environmental issue. 

A total of 92 kindergartens and preschools in the affected areas have also been closed. 

Authorities believe the poisoning was caused by toxic waste that had been illegally dumped into a river.

Pasir Gudang methane poisoning chemical leak river
Students and teachers in nearby schools fell ill after they breathed in fumes from chemicals that were illegally dumped into Sungai Kim Kim. (Photo: Bernama)

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stressed on Thursday that there was no need to declare a state of emergency.

“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.

The issue was debated in parliament on Thursday, where Pasir Gudang Member of Parliament Hassan Abdul Karim urged the federal government to declare an emergency in the town in Johor Bahru. 

However, Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said the government is evaluating the seriousness of the pollution before deciding on whether to declare a state of emergency. 

READ: Pasir Gudang methane poisoning: Families move away from pollution area

Pasir Gudang methane poisoning Sungai Kim Kim cleaning works underway
Authorities believe the poisoning in Pasir Gudang was caused by toxic waste that had been illegally dumped into a Sungai Kim Kim. (Photo: Twitter/Osman Sapian)

Pasir Gudang methane poisoning Sungai Kim Kim River view
Fumes from Sungai Kim Kim caused students and teachers from nearby schools to experience shortness of breath and vomiting. (Photo: Bernama)

"We will have a meeting first for us to consider the options because we have other measures (besides the declaration of emergency) that can address the problem," she told reporters at the parliament lobby. 

"We will have to get to the bottom of this thing, we will consider the measures needed for the time being, as well as mid- and long-term action." 

Dr Wan Azizah said that the case is still under the jurisdiction of the state government, but stressed that authorities will do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of people around Pasir Gudang, especially children.

READ: Johor Sultan pledges RM1 million for Pasir Gudang aid efforts

Cleanup of Sungai Kim Kim river in Pasir Gudang
Emergency personnel wearing protective suits prepare materials for the clean up of Sungai Kim Kim river in Pasir Gudang, southern Malaysia on Mar 14, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Muhammad Syukri)

In its statement on Thursday, the National Disaster Management Agency said authorities have so far managed to remove about 2.4 tonnes of toxic waste mixed with soil.  

Samples of the toxic waste have been sent to the Johor Department of Chemistry for further analysis.

The federal and state governments will both manage the cost of the cleaning the river, said the agency, adding that compassionate aid will be given to all affected victims and families based on criteria that will be decided by the authorities.

READ: No anomalies in Singapore's air and water quality, say authorities amid methane poisoning in Pasir Gudang

Pasir Gudang methane poisoning Sungai Kim Kim River
Methane fumes from Sungai Kim Kim caused students and teachers from nearby schools to experience shortness of breath and vomiting. (Photo: Bernama)

The agency also said that the 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.

Putrajaya has sent the police, the military, hazmat teams and the fire department among other agencies to help deal with the problem in Pasir Gudang, said Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohamed Hanipa Maidin in parliament on Thursday. 

"The federal government has already deployed assets and resources as if the situation has already been declared an emergency situation," he was quoted as saying by the Malay Mail. 

Emergency personnel prepares materials for the clean up of Sungai Kim Kim river
An emergency personnel wearing protective suit prepares materials for the clean up of Sungai Kim Kim river in Pasir Gudang, southern Malaysia on Mar 14, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Muhammad Syukri)

Source: CNA/Bernama/zl/ad(gs/hm)

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