Johor MB regrets latest school closures over toxic fumes

A notice being put up in front of SMK Pasir Putih to announce the temporary closure of the school due to toxic fumes from chemicals dumped into the nearby Sungai Kim Kim, March 7, 2019. — Bernama pic
A notice being put up in front of SMK Pasir Putih to announce the temporary closure of the school due to toxic fumes from chemicals dumped into the nearby Sungai Kim Kim, March 7, 2019. — Bernama pic

JOHOR BARU, March 12 — Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian expressed regret that hazardous fumes from river pollution here again caused two schools in Pasir Gudang to close yesterday.

He said the incident was unexpected and regrettable. SK Pasir Putih and SMK Pasir Putih both closed following a reoccurrence of fumes from the Sungai Kim Kim yesterday afternoon.

“I have asked the District Disaster Relief Management Committee (JPBBD) to ensure that schools near the river were temporarily closed until the situation was really safe for students and teachers to continue their learning session,” said Osman in a statement here early this morning.

His statement, the first concerning the incident that started last Thursday, was also uploaded on his official Facebook account at midnight.

Last Thursday the two schools were ordered to be evacuated and closed due to air pollution following methane and benzene fumes emanating from illegally dumped chemical waste in Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang.

Following the clean-up, the two schools reopened yesterday morning after an air assessment confirmed it to be safe, but after about five hours later the hot weather triggered fumes from the residue.

By noon, many students and teachers from the two schools complained of breathing difficulties and nausea. A total of 61 people have since been treated at the Sultan Ismail Hospital (HSI) since late yesterday.

National news agency Bernama reported the number of those affected as reaching 207 people at 11pm yesterday.

Osman said the Department of Environment (DoE) together with the Fire and Rescue Department are in the midst of conducting cleaning-up works to ensure the environment and air quality are safe from any form of contamination.

He said the agencies will also identify the sources of pollution in order to prevent a repeat of the incident.

Osman, who is also the Kempas assemblyman, also pointed out that he has been informed that three suspects, comprising two factory owners and an employee, have been arrested by authorities and will be charged in connection with illegally dumping of chemical waste into Sungai Kim Kim.

“The Johor state government, through relevant agencies, will take firm action against those responsible for illegally disposing chemicals into rivers, resulting in pollution that affects the environment and also local residents,” he said.