PETALING JAYA: The toxic waste dumped into a river in Pasir Gudang, Johor, has claimed more victims.
The fumes from the waste have been carried by strong winds across a swath of the Pasir Gudang district along the banks of Sungai Kim Kim, sending at least 500 people, many of them students, to the hospital.
As at 5pm today, 34 schools have already been shut down.
Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik, who visited some of the victims at the Sultan Ismail Hospital and the disaster operations room in Taman Pasir Putih, Pasir Gudang, today, said the situation was becoming critical.
“While there, I saw more than 50 students being sent to the hospital. They were coming in non-stop from schools in the area and they were having difficulty breathing,“ he said.
Maszlee said he had ordered all the 34 schools within a 3km radius of the affected area to be closed immediately. “This includes the 11 schools that have been shut earlier,“ he said.
Teachers from the affected schools have also been ordered to stay at home.
Last Thursday, eight students of SMK Taman Pasir Putih and SK Taman Pasir Putih were hospitalised after they were exposed to methane gas near their schools.
They were among 28 people, aged seven to 40, who had taken ill as a result of inhaling the gas.
It is believed that a tanker had dumped the chemical waste into the river early that morning.
The deputy chief of the Fire and Rescue Department in the district, Lokman Hakim Sulaiman, said the methane gas was emitted by the chemical waste.
Three persons are suspected to have dumped the chemical waste but so far, only one of them has been arrested. The government is mulling a proposal to slap him with multiple criminal charges.
He is expected to appear in court tomorrow.
Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said she had spoken to Attorney-General Tommy Thomas on the possibility of bringing multiple charges against the suspect because of the seriousness of the offence.
She said Department of Environment had completed its investigations and the suspect would likely be charged under Section 34B of the Environmental Quality Act 1974. If found guilty, he could be jailed up to five years or fined up to RM500,000 or both.
However Yeo, who paid a visit to the Pasir Gudang Municipal Council, said this might not be adequate for such an offence and there were plans to also charge him under the Penal Code and other legislation that provided for heavier penalties.
Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said there was a need to educate the public on the importance of having a liveable habitat.
“The people must understand that they need to protect the environment for future generations,“ he added.