PUTRAJAYA / JOHOR BARU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Malaysian authorities have detected methyl mercaptan gas in Johor's Pasir Gudang district during the height of the toxic fumes incident which caused dozens of school children to fall ill and resulted in closure of schools.
Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said on Friday (June 28) the presence of the gas was an anomaly.
She said it could cause averse effects on children as well as those with health conditions like asthma.
Also detected in Pasir Gudang was acrylonitrile and acrolein gases.
However, the minister said the three gases were not detected in the blood samples of the victims.
"The ministry has initiated immediate measures to dispose factors that contribute to the presence of the gases. Authorities are also continuing enforcement efforts and to monitor chemical factories in Pasir Gudang," she said at a press conference.
According to statistics, there are 2,005 licensed factories in Pasir Gudang, of which 250 are chemical factories.
Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said as of June 27, a total of 748 cases of breathing difficulties were reported in the industrial area, with 709 treated as outpatients while 39 required hospitalisation.
At least eight detection teams have been deployed to Pasir Gudang in an effort to narrow down the possible source of contamination in the area.
The teams, which will cover at least nine spots, are tasked with gathering samples every few hours.
The results are then analysed by a technical committee comprising experts from various agencies.
It is learnt that the team members include four from the Fire and Rescue Department's hazardous materials unit (Hazmat) and one each from the Department of Environment, Department of Occupational Safety and Health, Department of Chemistry, and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.
Johor Fire and Rescue Department director Yahya Madis confirmed that the department was collaborating with other agencies.
"We have nine points that we are focusing on, including around the first schools which were hit on June 20, along with areas near Sungai Kim Kim and chemical factories in the area," he said when contacted on Thursday (June 27).
He added that so far, about 50 people from the Hazmat teams, including those from other states, had been deployed.
"We carry out detection every few hours and so far the readings have not shown anything abnormal," he said, adding that they would continue with the monitoring.
Datuk Yahya explained that each Hazmat team comprised five personnel who move about with detection gadgets.
Toxic fumes in the area have resulted in dozens of schoolchildren being taken ill and the closure of schools.
The closure has affected 347 private kindergartens, 111 primary and secondary schools, three higher education institutions and 14 private and international schools.
To date, more than 100 students from over 30 primary and secondary schools have been affected by what has been described as an "air pollution incident".
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has described the incident as "unfortunate", saying it should not have happened, especially hard on the heels of the dumping of toxic waste into nearby Sungai Kim Kim three months ago.
In March, schools were also ordered to close because of toxic fumes coming from Sungai Kim Kim. Four individuals, including two Singaporeans, have been charged in the Sessions Court for their alleged involvement in the case.
Meanwhile, Negri Sembilan Fire and Rescue Department's Hazmat specialist Mohammad Idris said its air quality reading had been done three times daily since last Thursday.
"We have not recorded an anomaly for the past three days and the air quality reading shows a normal level," he said.
"The record will be kept to make comparisons with the day before so that we can keep track of the air quality conditions in Pasir Gudang," he said.