Under control, but Pasir Gudang residents remain on edge

Residents continue to take precautionary measures as the number of victims continues to rise

By ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN & DASHVEENJIT KAUR / Pic By BERNAMA

The situation in toxic fumes-hit Pasir Gudang was under control yesterday, but anxiety remained high as a university campus was deserted, a concert by an international singer cancelled and reinforcements flooded the district to provide assistance in the disaster-stricken area.

The residents continued to take precautionary measures as the number of victims continued to rise to over 1,500 people as at press time. No fatality has been reported despite a few victims being admitted into the intensive care unit.

Students who came to take their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia results wore masks. Some 111 schools in the district remained closed indefinitely. The English proficiency test — Malaysian University English Test — scheduled at five examination centres in Pasir Gudang had also been changed from March 16 to April 6.

International singer Maher Zain’s concert in Pasir Gudang, which was planned for today, has been cancelled due to safety reasons. Refunds for the tickets to watch the Lebanese-born singer, who is on tour in Malaysia, are being arranged by the organiser.

Universiti Teknologi Mara’s Pasir Gudang campus had been closed and all classes had been postponed for five days starting Wednesday. Parents had come to Pasir Gudang to fetch their children.

The military had also deployed the Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear team to identify and rid the area of toxic materials. The Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Unit in full safety gear had been on-site for several days to contain the spread of the toxic fumes.

Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad also visited the disaster-hit area yesterday to observe first-hand the situation.

Bernama reported Dr Mahathir as saying the situation in Pasir Gudang was under control and there were no plans to evacuate the residents.

He said the authorities have the capability to handle chemical waste pollution issue and there was no necessity to declare a state of emergency over the incident.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said a total of 1,568 cases have been reported thus far, with 1,107 people having received outpatient treatment.

Meanwhile at the Dewan Rakyat, the Pasir Gudang toxic dumping incident was debated by representatives. However, the motion to declare a state of emergency did not materialise due to technicalities.

Deputy Minister in the PM’s Department (law) Mohamed Hanipa Maidin said the Johor government has to make a request for the government to declare emergency for the area.

“But this was not the case. The administration in Johor still thinks they can handle the situation (without declaring a state of emergency),” Mohamed Hanipa told reporters at the Parliament lobby yesterday after winding up the debate on the calamity.

An emergency motion to declare a state of emergency in Pasir Gudang was put forward by MP Hassan Abdul Karim (Pakatan Harapan-Pasir Gudang).

Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof had earlier approved the motion made by Hassan, and had allocated 60 minutes for MPs to debate on the matter.

Representatives from both sides of the divide were in agreement on the immediate actions that must be taken to address the incident.

Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said the government’s priority was to contain the toxic contamination.

Yeo said the government is increasing the number of contractors to speed up the cleaning process of the contaminated river.

“The most important thing now is that river cleaning works can be carried out quickly but safely, so that we can dispose of harmful contaminants while ensuring that there is no new pollution sources,” she said in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

Yeo also revealed a report by the Department of Environment (DoE) which identified the toxic fumes was caused by the dumping of black lubricants into the river.

Investigations also found that the waste was not released from nearby plants.

Samples taken from the river indicate that the river was polluted with chemicals such as methane, hydrogen chloride, acrylonitire, acrolein and benzene.

Chemical analysis results for the samples taken by the DoE showed that all samples contained organic solvents such as benzene, toulene, xylene, ethylbenzene and D-Limonene. D-Limonene is a typical chemical related to the process of “pyrolysis” tyre.

“Based on these results, the DoE will continue investigations into 252 other chemical factories and provide investigation papers for the suspects. We’ve sent some of the papers earlier to prosecutors for approval,” Yeo said.

The DoE identified an illegal tyre recycling factory as the party responsible for the offence. The suspect will be charged at the Magistrate’s Court in Johor Baru under Section 34(b) of the Environmental Quality Act 1974 (EQA 1974).

Under the EQA 1974, the perpetrator will be liable to a fine of RM500,000 and a jail sentence of five years. However, due to the severity of the disaster, Yeo said the perpetrator will face multiple charges under different Acts.

“I have discussed the matter with the Attorney General, and we view this as a major offence. We are of the view that the offender can face multiple charges, not just what is stipulated in the EQA 1974. But because the DoE has completed their investigative report, we will charge the offender in court under EQA 1974,” Yeo said.