The toxic chemical dumping case in Pasir Gudang that led to more than 3,500 people taking ill has seen the first charges being laid, with the Johor police producing in court two directors of a used tyre-processing company - Singaporean Wang Jin Chao, 34, and Malaysian Yap Yoke Liang, 36. A third man was also charged: Malaysian lorry driver N. Maridass, 35, who is accused of illegally disposing of chemicals into Sungai Kim Kim. With the clean-up completed, the 111 schools in the area that were shut down look likely to reopen. The incident was serious enough for Malaysia to consider imposing an Emergency, and is a stark reminder of the abuse that industry, unchecked, can cause to the environment.
On the heels of the Johor incident came news that the death toll in a chemical plant explosion in Yancheng, eastern China, rose to 64 and could go higher, with dozens more still on the critical list. Aside from injuring hundreds, last Thursday's explosion flattened an industrial park, causing damage in the tens of millions of dollars. The blast was said to have been so intense that it reportedly triggered a small earthquake and dented metal doors of buildings as far as 4km from the site. Accidents such as the China explosion are an inevitable corollary of the age of industrialisation. However, Asia's headlong rush for development, often combined with narrow political interests and weak enforcement of regulations, have produced a particularly toxic blend of dangers in some countries. This is what happened in December 1984, when the central Indian town of Bhopal became the site of the world's worst industrial disaster after lethal methyl isocyanate leaked from a Union Carbide plant.