KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's environment minister yesterday said 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, 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 Ministerial Question Time, in response to a question by Pasir Gudang MP Hassan Abdul Karim.
Ms Yeo also gave a commitment to go to Pasir Gudang every week.
She said the government had outlined several approaches, such as 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.
Carrying capacity refers to the maximum number of individuals of one species that a particular environment can support.
Ms Yeo said: "As Pasir Gudang is an important industrial hub in Johor, a Pasir Gudang Department of Environment (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 round the clock to resolve the incident there.
About 475 educational institutions in Pasir Gudang were closed for three days last week after more than 100 students from over 30 schools experienced symptoms such as nausea and dizziness. These were attributed to "toxic fumes", the cause for which has not been identified.
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.
There are fears that the incident was a repeat of a similar scare in March, when thousands of residents were rushed to hospital after breathing in fumes caused by the dumping of chemicals from a neighbouring factory.
The chemicals were believed to contain heavy metals used to dissolve metal at a scrapyard and a chemical factory in Kulai. Nine people were arrested and four were charged over the incident.
Since the incident, Ms Yeo has promised to stop issuing approvals to any new factories in the district.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, DPA