KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's environment minister said on Thursday (July 4) joint enforcement operations will be carried out to shut down illegal factories in Pasir Gudang, where hundreds of schools were temporarily closed last week after the town was hit by toxic fumes.
Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (Mestecc) Minister Yeo Bee Yin said the operations would be carried out in one month.
"I had a meeting with the Johor Mentri Besar on Thursday, and we will be targeting illegal factories."
"In one month, we will have a joint operation to close down all the illegal factories in Pasir Gudang."
"Then we will go to inspect them," she said during the Ministerial Question Time on Thursday, in response to a question by Pasir Gudang MP Hassan Abdul Karim.
He also asked if the minister agreed that the two back-to-back incidents in Pasir Gudang were due to the lack of enforcement by the Department of Environment (DOE) during the present and previous administrations.
Ms Yeo said that after the Sungai Kim Kim incident, enforcement operations by the department increased by 300 per cent.
She said there had been a 40 per cent increase in enforcement by the department from January to June this year, compared with the same period last year.
"We must have a paradigm shift. We need to do something different from what we have been doing," she said.
In March, 111 primary and secondary schools in Pasir Gudang were shut for two weeks following the illegal dumping of chemicals into Sungai Kim Kim, which flows into the Strait of Johor just north of Singapore's Pulau Ubin.
Ms Yeo on Thursday also gave a commitment, saying she would go to Pasir Gudang every week.
She added that the government had also outlined several approaches, including enhancing real-time gas detector monitoring.
Others include buying tools and equipment for the purpose of monitoring the level of toxic gas in the area, developing a system to analyse and determine the carrying capacity of air in the industrial areas in Pasir Gudang.
Ms Yeo added: "As Pasir Gudang is an important industrial hub in Johor, a Pasir Gudang DOE branch will be created to increase the monitoring and enforcement in the area.
"Mestecc, through the DOE, will also make it compulsory for industries in Pasir Gudang to comply with several guidelines, which include installing a Continuous Emission Monitoring System.
"Mestecc will also adopt several schools that are deemed as high-risk, as they are near the factories, by providing equipment such as gas detectors and air purifiers."
Ms Yeo denied that the government took its time in responding to the latest chemical pollution in Pasir Gudang. She said many officers have been working around the clock to resolve the incident there.
Nearly 475 educational institutions in Pasir Gudang were closed for three days last week after more than 100 students from over 30 schools experienced symptoms like nausea and dizziness. These were attributed to "toxic fumes", the cause for which has not been pinpointed.
When the schools reopened on Sunday, many students and teachers experienced similar symptoms and were rushed to clinics. However, pollution detectors showed no toxic chemicals in the air.