KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Removing pollutants from the 1.5km stretch of Sungai Kim Kim where chemicals were illegally dumped earlier this month will cost approximately RM6.5 million (S$2.16 million), Malaysia's environment minister has said.
More than 3,000 people were treated for exposure to hazardous fumes after industrial waste was dumped into the river two weeks ago, and 111 schools in the area have been forced to close from last Wednesday (March 13).
Environment, Science, Technology and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said that the cost of the cleaning operation as a whole would be more than RM10 million.
"It is RM6.5 million for the clean-up alone. This does not include the movement of the officials and all that," she said on Thursday (March 21) during a press conference at the inaugural Malaysian Industrial Development Finance Berhad (MIDF) Green Conference.
Ms Yeo said the Sungai Kim Kim toxic waste dumping was a wake-up call for enforcement and environmental laws to be strengthened.
She said that the ministry was working with the Attorney General to make the culprit pay for the clean-up costs.
"The AG's Chambers is still looking at how to make this (happen) due to current limitations of the existing law," she said.
"That is why we need to review the law... I want to make people who can pay (for polluting the environment) pay for it," she said.
Ms Yeo said while the Environmental Quality Act was already being reviewed, the Sungai Kim Kim incident would speed up the tabling of the law in Parliament.
"We are looking into the law to see if we can get the people who commit the crime to pay for it.
"The Malaysian Bar says the person who pollutes can pay - but if the culprit is a lorry driver, for example, how are you going to force them to pay RM6.4 million?" she said, adding they would just be declared bankrupt.
Ms Yeo said the upcoming law would address this issue and hold errant companies responsible.
"Sungai Kim Kim is a wake-up call for us on how to take care of our environment, and for the government to strengthen enforcement and environmental law, and for the public to report suspicious activities," she said.