As of Thursday (14th March), 2,775 people have fallen ill after an illegal chemical dumping took place along the Kim Kim River in Pasir Gudang, Johor.
Many of those affected are children and while investigations are currently underway, those in Pasir Gudang are worried about this situation possibly escalating even further.
— The Star (@staronline) March 13, 2019
If you haven’t been keeping up with this alarming news, here’s a timeline of what has been happening in Pasir Gudang over the past few days and what the authorities have been doing;
35 people, mostly school students, were rushed to the hospital after suffering poisoning symptoms. A student reportedly fainted while five others began vomiting, according to Channel NewsAsia. They reportedly inhaled the poisonous gas from chemical waste that was illegally dumped into a river in Pasir Gudang. The school was then ordered to shut down to aid with investigations.
Meanwhile, 21 of them were warded at the Sultan Ismail Hospital, while five of them were treated at the emergency department and the rest were given outpatient treatment. Those rushed to the hospital were aged between 7 and 40 years old and were from Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Pasir Putih and Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Pasir Putih. Eight of those hospitalised were in critical condition.
Also, there were reports of other people experiencing similar symptoms, but they were not as severe as those hospitalised.
According to reports, it was believed that a tanker lorry illegally dumped this waste into the Kim Kim River on Wednesday morning (6th March).
The two affected schools were then reopened the following Monday (11th March) but just 5 hours later, they were ordered closed again after 61 people (57 students and 4 staff) experienced breathing difficulties, nausea, and vomiting, and were subsequently rushed to the Sultan Ismail Hospital.
On the same day, two male factory owners were arrested for being suspected of illegally dumping the chemical waste into the Kim Kim River last week. Meanwhile, a third man was arrested on Sunday (10th March). They are all currently being investigated under Section 34B of the Environmental Quality Act 1974, according to Johor Department of Environment (DoE) director Mohammad Ezzani Mat Salleh.
One of the suspects owns a chemical-processing plant while the other is the owner of a used goods-processing factory. Both factories were sealed by the authorities following their arrests.
Just yesterday (12th March), 260 more people reportedly experiencing shortness of breath, vomiting, and nausea have been receiving treatment at the Taman Pasir Putih Community Hall in Pasir Gudang, according to Bernama.
Those affected were members of the public as well as students from Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Tanjung Puteri Resort and Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) Tanjung Puteri Resort, Pasir Gudang.
As of 10am this morning, even more students began experiencing breathing difficulties after strong winds reportedly blew the gas into SK Tanjung Puteri Resort. The school’s principal was quoted by The Star as saying,
“In the 10am incident, four schoolchildren were rushed to the school’s treatment room after showing symptoms of gas poisoning. The number of pupils suffering from dizziness, nausea, and vomiting increased gradually. They were rushed to the Taman Pasir Putih Community Hall for treatment.”
“Firefighters and rescue personnel ordered the closure of the school and instructed the staff and students to go home at 11.15am.”
Earlier this morning, it was announced that 13 schools were ordered to close indefinitely starting Wednesday (13th March). According to the Malay Mail, in the latest update by the Education Ministry, all 111 schools in the Pasir Gudang district have been ordered to shut down until the situation improves.
Johor Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman Dr Sahruddin Jamal also told NST that a licensed contractor has since been appointed to clean up Kim Kim River. Meanwhile, he advised the public to seek immediate treatment if they experience eye irritation, chest pains and shortness of breath, according to the New Straits Times.
Now, in the latest development, Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment & Climate Change Yeo Bee Yin stated that one of the arrested suspects will be charged under Section 34(b) of the Environmental Quality Act 1974 on Thursday (14th March). If found guilty, the suspect could face up to 5 years in jail, a fine of up to RM500,000, or both.
Following Yeo Bee Yin’s announcement that one of the suspects would be charged on Thursday, it has now been confirmed that there is a delay in charging the suspect as the DoE was directed by the state Deputy Public Prosecutors Office to provide more details in the investigation papers. According to the Malay Mail, the suspect will only be charged once prosecutors and satisfied with the papers.
In other news, Johor Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar just pledged RM1 million to aid rescue efforts in Pasir Gudang. Channel NewsAsia quoted a statement by the royal Johor press office on Thursday (14th March), which said,
“Her Majesty The Permaisuri of Johor, Raja Zarith Sofiah Binti Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah, said Sultan Ibrahim is deeply saddened by the tragedy. ”
“The contribution is for the fire and rescue department, police and other government agencies to purchase whatever is necessary to help victims.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the Dewan Rakyat approved a motion for the federal government to declare a state of emergency over the Pasir Gudang chemical dump. The latest number of cases has since risen to 2,775.
According to Channel NewsAsia, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who visited Hospital Sultan Ismail in Johor, stated that there was no need to declare a state of emergency.
Meanwhile, the National Disaster Management Agency stated that they managed to remove roughly 2.4 tonnes of toxic waste mixed with soil, while samples have been sent to the Johor Department of Chemistry for analysis.
Stay tuned for more updates on this developing story.
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