PASIR GUDANG, Johor: Residents from the industrial town of Pasir Gudang have called for authorities to conduct more frequent monitoring of the area's air quality, and to implement an early warning system following the recurring cases of children experiencing breathing difficulties and vomiting linked to pollution.
The cases have led the Johor state government to close all schools in Pasir Gudang for three days from Tuesday (Jun 25) as it took measures to identify and fix the source of the contamination.
Mr Jamaluddin Abdul Malik, whose daughter was warded at Hospital Sultan Ismail since Monday for persistent vomiting and sharp pain in her kidney, told CNA that residents want to be informed and alerted if the air in Pasir Gudang is contaminated with hazardous chemicals.
"We already know this is an industrial area, (the government) must have detectors to monitor any chemical pollution in our air," said the 41-year-old on Tuesday.
Mr Jamaluddin's daughter, Nursyairah Balqis, studies at Tanjung Puteri Resort Secondary School, and experienced the symptoms while in school on Monday.
According to him, she experienced similar symptoms in March, after illegal dumping of chemical waste into Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang. In that incident, thousands of students from nearby schools fell ill. Nursyairah was warded for four days back then.
Mr Jamaluddin is concerned that this issue will continue to affect his seven children living in Pasir Gudang, and has called for an alert system to warn residents to stay indoors when the air quality has dropped below a certain level.
"There has been no feedback of what is the source of the contamination. It could happen again now, in a little while or tomorrow, and we wouldn't know. There is no confidence given to residents. We the residents of Pasir Gudang don't feel safe anymore," he added.
Another parent, Mdm Khadijah Umar, whose 9-year-old daughter developed a persistent cough and was vomiting when she was at school on Monday, echoed Mr Jamaluddin's sentiments.
She said: "An alert system would be ideal. When the air quality index indicates hazardous air, there should be a public warning system, maybe via sms or the media, to warn residents to stay indoors".
Mdm Khadijah's daughter is a student from the Taman Mawar religious school, the first school to report students with breathing difficulties and vomiting on Monday. She was initially sent to Hospital Sultan Ismail for checks before she was discharged on Monday evening.
Mdm Khadijah said her family is considering moving out of the area if authorities do not come up with a viable solution.
"If there are no good methods being implemented, me and my family are moving back to our Kampung in Negeri Sembilan, as far away from Pasir Gudang as possible," she said.
Business owners in Pasir Gudang have also called for the state government to tackle the pollution.
Ms Khairiyah Azman, who operates an economy rice stall beside the Taman Mawar religious school, told CNA that business has dipped since latest the pollution incident.
She said that customers are afraid to consume the food because they are scared that the ingredients could be contaminated.
"The government should tell everyone quickly what is the cause of the pollution so that people don't speculate," she said.
"In this day and age, they have the technological resources to detect the cause of the contamination and warn us. We can avoid all this then," Ms Khadijah added.
When CNA visited Pasir Gudang city centre on Tuesday, the area was mostly deserted and many shops were shut.
Emergency services were still present at Pasir Gudang's indoor stadium to prepare for decontamination operations on Tuesday afternoon.
Mr Salleh Osman, a drink stall owner in Pasir Gudang, said that the town was "at a standstill" as residents waited for the government to investigate the source of the contamination and the dangers it poses.
According to media reports, the Malaysian government is currently investigating 30 chemical factories in the area that may have caused the pollution.
On Monday, Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin said the latest incident is due to chemical waste from Sungai Kim Kim.
However, Deputy Minister for Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis said separately that the latest incident is different from that of the Sungai Kim Kim incident.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has vowed to take stern action against the culprits behind the incident.
On the ongoing investigations, Mr Salleh said: "It has been more than 24 hours and we still don't know what we're faced with. It's better if we all stay indoors and pray nobody gets seriously hurt."