Johor shuts 34 schools as toxic fumes affect children

JOHOR BARU The dumping of chemicals into a river in southern Johor about a week ago has caused hundreds of people, including schoolchildren, to be treated for breathing difficulties and respiratory ailments.

The Johor government yesterday shut 34 schools in Pasir Gudang as the area has been affected by the toxic fumes that wafted into the schools located near Sungai Kim Kim.

The chemicals, believed to contain heavy metal from a scrapyard and a chemical factory in the Kulai area, were discharged into Sungai Kim Kim that flows into the Strait of Johor near Singapore's Pulau Ubin.

Students in at least seven Johor schools have been affected as the chemicals flowed downstream in the last few days, causing some to faint, with health workers rushing to schools to help them.

Nearly 300 people are receiving medical treatment at two government hospitals.

The ruler of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Sultan Iskandar, said in a statement on his Facebook page on Tuesday: "These are innocent schoolchildren, teachers and health workers... Don't those responsible feel any remorse at the thought that children in the intensive care unit are fighting for their lives?

"These are my rakyat (people) and I will not let this matter go unanswered. I urge all government agencies to apprehend and punish the culprits immediately."

The latest incident occurred on Tuesday when 260 people, including students from two Tanjung Puteri Resort schools, were rushed to hospital with breathing difficulties.

Three people were arrested on Sunday and Monday in connection with the case.

Fishermen in the area are claiming that the thick sludge in the water is causing their boat engines to fail and they have to row their boats out to sea.

Meanwhile, Johor's Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman Sahruddin Jamal said the matter was getting from bad to worse.

At the Tanjung Puteri Resort national school, headmaster Mohd Asri Abdul Kadir said strong winds blew the hazardous gas into the school, causing many students to suffer breathing difficulties.

Mr Asri said 857 schoolchildren were affected.

He said: "The number of pupils suffering from dizziness, nausea and vomiting increased gradually."- THE STAR