No need to evacuate Pasir Gudang over toxic fumes: Dr Mahathir

More than 1,100 people affected, 13 in intensive care

JOHOR: The toxic fumes in Pasir Gudang Johor has affected 1,171 people so far, of which more than 390 have been admitted to hospital since the first cases from two schools were reported last week.

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said there are 13 people in intensive care but there have been no deaths so far.

The state government has ordered a total of 111 schools in and around Pasir Gudang in Johor closed pending further notice.

The toxic waste was reportedly dumped into Sungai Kim Kim by an illegal tyre-recycling factory, The Star reported.

Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad visited the area as well as victims in hospital in Pasir Gudang yesterday.

He said there was no need to declare Pasir Gudang a disaster area and order it to be evacuated. He said the situation had not reached the level that required such a measure, reported The Star.

"The people should have faith in the government that it is handling the issue to... (the) best of its ability," he said adding that this situation was "the first of its kind as it involves gases".

In a related development, The Star reported that many shops are running out of face masks.

Besides the N95 (respirator) masks, ordinary face masks are also in high demand.

Many outlets in the area had been out of stock since Tuesday. Checks at five shops in Pasir Gudang showed empty shelves.

Store employees said they were not sure when the new orders would arrive as "even the suppliers do not have stock". They advised people to look for masks in other areas such as Johor Baru.

Agencies involved in the cleanup of Sungai Kim Kim collected 2.43 tonnes of chemical waste the day the incident was reported, said Johor Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman Sahruddin Jamal.

He said: "The operation on that day ended at around 11pm, where the waste was sent to a disposal area, which is licensed by the DOE (Department of Environment).

"However, the cleaning had to be stopped on the second day, on March 8, after getting advice from the Health Department and DOE, as it is found the waste is toxic and thus needed to meet the standards set by the Department of Occupational Safety and Health," he added.

He said cleaning resumed on Wednesday, as the authorities had by then appointed contractors who had experience in handling such wastes.

Johor ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, has pledged RM1 million (S$331,000) in aid to help the authorities in their efforts in handling the chemical pollution crisis, reported The Star.

Meanwhile, there will be a delay in bringing charges against the owner of the illegal tyre-recycling factory, officials said.

Dr Sahruddin said investigation papers had already been sent to the deputy public prosecutor's office, but there was a request for more information to be added.

"The DOE has been told to add more information to complete the investigation papers," he said