Pasir Gudang chemical spill: Unsung heroes work tirelessly to treat victims, contain pollution

Workers in protective suits cleaning up Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang, Johor, last Thursday. The technical director of the main contractor involved in cleaning up the river said he and his team have been working round the clock to clean up the pollu
Workers in protective suits cleaning up Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang, Johor, last Thursday. The technical director of the main contractor involved in cleaning up the river said he and his team have been working round the clock to clean up the polluted 1.5km stretch.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PASIR GUDANG (Johor) • The unsung heroes working to contain the Sungai Kim Kim chemical pollution in Pasir Gudang, Johor, are forced to endure long hours not just to treat the victims, but also to help detect chemical substances around the area, collect samples and even carry out cleaning works.

More than a dozen agencies have been involved in the process since March 7, with units mobilised from around the country.

Mr M. Murugiah, a hazardous materials (Hazmat) specialist with the Fire and Rescue Department, was in the midst of teaching firemen at the department's training college in Kuala Kubu Baru, Selangor, when he received his deployment orders on Tuesday last week.

"I immediately dismissed my class and packed up, and was on the way to Johor within 30 minutes," he said, adding that there are 10 Hazmat teams carrying out checks and conducting surveillance round the clock.

"We carried out decontamination works for the teams moving in and out of ground zero at the river, and also for people entering the Pasir Gudang stadium for check-ups," he said. His team was also tasked with collecting about 20 air, water and soil samples daily for analysis.

"There is a lot of planning and movement of personnel, as this is an operation which covered a huge area," said Mr Murugiah, who has spent 25 out of his 30 years' service as a Hazmat specialist.

Mercy Malaysia medical volunteer Soh Yih Harng, 34, who was part of the initial team deployed to help the victims in Pasir Gudang, said the team was short-handed at first.

"I arrived in Pasir Gudang from Melaka at about 2am last Thursday and started my shift at 8am. We have more medical volunteers now, and that allows us to see as many patients as possible," Dr Soh said at the medical base at the Pasir Gudang Indoor Stadium.

For Malaysia Civil Defence Force ambulance driver Muhammad Atikullah Aziz, 31, the situation has been hectic since he was deployed to the area, as he transports people from the stadium to the hospitals.

Thousands of people have been affected by the toxic fumes caused by chemicals dumped in Sungai Kim Kim.

"Many agencies also sent ambulance drivers to help out here, and that has allowed us to respond faster to emergency calls," said Mr Muhammad Atikullah.

Malaysia Red Crescent volunteer Amy Sim, 32, hopes that their presence will help reduce the burden of all agencies involved in the rescue mission here.

"Some of the volunteers would come after work, while some even took leave (from work) to help and counsel the victims here," she said.

The technical director of the main contractor involved in cleaning up Sungai Kim Kim, Mr N. Shanker, 52, has been working round the clock with his team to clean up the polluted 1.5km stretch of river.

"About 90 people are involved in the exercise, with half working the day shift and the other half the night," he said.

He added that all agencies involved have been working tirelessly to purify the river since last Wednesday, and he is glad that the process to salvage the river has been completed.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2019, with the headline 'Unsung heroes work tirelessly to treat victims, contain pollution'. Print Edition | Subscribe