JOHOR BARU • The dumping of chemical waste into a river in southern Johor about a week ago has led to nearly 500 people, including dozens of students, being treated for breathing difficulties and respiratory ailments.
The Education Ministry has ordered all 111 schools in the Pasir Gudang district to close with immediate effect late yesterday.
The area had been affected by toxic fumes from the chemical waste. It was discharged into Sungai Kim Kim, which flows into the Strait of Johor near Singapore's Pulau Ubin.
This river is separate from the Johor River, which has reservoirs upstream that supply raw water to Singapore and Johor.
"Based on the current situation and information from the State Disaster Management Committee, the Education Ministry has decided to close all 111 schools in the Pasir Gudang district effective today until a date to be notified," Education Minister Maszlee Malik said yesterday.
"Accordingly, all students, teachers, staff and employees at all schools do not have to attend their respective schools until the situation improves," he said, adding that he was told the situation had reached a critical level.
Nearly 300 people, mostly students, are receiving medical treatment at two government hospitals.
Malaysia's Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said yesterday that an illegal factory owner involved in tyre recycling in Kulai, Johor, is expected to be charged today in connection with the dumping.
If found guilty, he faces a maximum jail term of five years and a fine of RM500,000 (S$166,000), she said.
Ms Yeo also said that the Department of Environment would be installing gas detection monitors around Pasir Gudang to check on the air quality.
The ruler of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Sultan Iskandar, said in a statement on his Facebook page on Tuesday: "These are innocent schoolchildren, teachers and health workers... Don't those responsible feel any remorse at the thought that children in the ICU (intensive care unit) are fighting for their lives?
"These are my rakyat (people) and I will not let this matter go unanswered. I urge all government agencies to apprehend and punish the culprits immediately."
The latest incident occurred on Tuesday when 260 people, including students from two Tanjung Puteri Resort schools, were rushed to hospital with breathing difficulties.
Fishermen in the area are claiming that the thick sludge in the water is causing their boat engines to fail and that they have to row their boats out to sea.
Meanwhile, Johor's Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman, Dr Sahruddin Jamal, said the matter was getting from bad to worse.
It was learnt that the federal National Disaster Management Agency has taken over the handling of the situation at Sungai Kim Kim.
At the Tanjung Puteri Resort national school, headmaster Mohd Asri Abdul Kadir said strong winds blew the hazardous fumes into the school, causing many students to suffer breathing difficulties.
"Four schoolchildren were rushed to the school's treatment room after showing symptoms of gas poisoning," said Mr Asri, adding that 857 schoolchildren were affected.
"The number of pupils suffering from dizziness, nausea and vomiting increased gradually. They were rushed to the Taman Pasir Putih Community Hall for treatment," he said.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK