PASIR GUDANG, Johor: “First, the doctors said six hours of observation, then it became 24 hours and later 48 hours … After that, they allowed us to go home … I could see that they were not very sure of what they were treating,” said Ms E Sujatha.
Her 11-year old son, who fainted at SK Taman Pasir Putih on Mar 7, was one of the earliest victims of the toxic waste pollution in Pasir Gudang that has since affected more than 2,700 people.
In the hospital, the doctors were not aware of what chemicals had affected the patients. Instead, some patients were given antibiotics or anti-vomiting medication, she recounted when interviewed by Channel NewsAsia on Thursday (Mar 14).
“Right now, we don’t know who is to blame (for the chemical dumping) but we are determined to take legal action ... For the victims’ families, we would really like to go all out to sue them.”
Ms Sujatha is among residents in Pasir Gudang who say the situation could have been better handled by the Johor Disaster Management Committee, especially in the area of public communications.
Mr Izurin Muhammad Amin, another resident in the area added: “At the moment, residents are in a panic and no one (from the state government) is giving any accurate information”.
He said most residents are ready to be evacuated if ordered to do so.
Mr Muhammad Fauzi Rohani, the chairman of a residents body against environment pollution in Sungai Kim Kim said the authorities should provide more information to residents through a townhall session.
“Right now, children are still playing outdoors as no one has informed us on how dangerous the situation is,” he said.
“Once the culprit is proven guilty, we will prepare litigation,” he stated.
He said those who have been affected indirectly should also be compensated. Over the past week, residents had to put up with a lot of inconvenience, including endless ambulance sirens at night, he added.
When asked on Friday whether the local government could have done more in terms of public communications, State Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman Sahruddin Jamal did not respond directly.
Dr Sahruddin said: “I hope all the state assemblymen and members of parliament will meet the people to explain and tell them what has been done so that the people will understand.”
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 methane fumes from chemicals that were illegally dumped in the nearby Sungai Kim Kim.
Initial cleaning works on Mar 8 had inadvertently worsened the chemical reaction, as the contractor engaged was not experienced in dealing with chemical waste.
Over the weekend, at least 82 people were hospitalised or sought treatment. Three men were detained.
A second wave of methane poisoning hit just hours after the two schools re-opened on Monday.
On Wednesday, all 111 schools in Pasir Gudang were ordered shut by Malaysia’s education ministry.
Some residents have reportedly evacuated from the area.
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 clean-up is expected to be completed within a week.
READ: No anomalies in Singapore's air and water quality, say authorities amid methane poisoning in Pasir Gudang
Despite the assurances, some residents do not want to take the risk.
Mr Izurin said that he has moved his family out of Pasir Gudang.
For Ms Sujatha, she has sent her three children to Kluang, around 120 km away from the affected area. “Now we feel safer for our kids by sending them away but what happens to those who don’t have siblings or relative nearby?”she asked.
Meanwhile, the number of people affected continues to grow.
The Pasir Gudang Indoor Stadium has been converted into a temporary treatment area. On Thursday night, people continued trickling in to seek medical attention.
According to a man who declined to be identified, he brought his 11 year-old son to the treatment centre after he complained of dizziness.
“He started to vomit and I rushed him here to have a proper scanning by the medical team,” he said.