The continuing environmental woes of Johor concern Singapore not only because of proximity but also out of neighbourly interest. 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. More than 5,800 people sought medical treatment after inhaling toxic fumes from the river. The incident prompted the Johor authorities to launch an intensive clean-up of the river and inspections of other sites where chemicals had been stored illegally or dumped. The effects of the chemical dumping resulted in the Malaysian Parliament having to entertain a motion for the federal government to declare a state of emergency. That step was not taken because the environmental threat was brought under control.
Yet, Pasir Gudang has returned to the news a few months later. Last week, nearly 475 educational institutions there were closed for three days after more than 100 students from over 30 schools experienced symptoms such as nausea and dizziness attributed to toxic fumes. When the schools reopened, many students and teachers displayed similar symptoms and were taken to clinics. However, pollution detectors showed no toxic chemicals in the air. This is not to say that the Malaysian authorities are not treating the matter seriously. Among organisations looking into the situation are the Johor state Environmental Department, Chemistry Department, Malaysian Meteorological Department, the Fire and Rescue Department's Hazmat team, Johor Health Department, Johor Education Department and the Pasir Gudang Municipal Council, along with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.