Pasir Gudang pollution: The government is bumbling all the way

Pasir Gudang pollution: The government is bumbling all the way

PUCHONG: In March, the state of Johor was got a rude shock when nearly 2,000 people living near Sungai Kim Kim, Pasir Gudang was affected by toxic fumes emanating from the heavily-polluted river.

The pollution was so bad that the government had to close down 111 schools at the Pasir Gudang area and 95 kindergarten and nurseries in Tebrau and Tenggara.

The matter even received personal attention from the Johor Palace.

And now, we have toxic fumes emanating in Pasir Gudang again, which caused about 60 students in the vicinity to suffer breathing difficulties and vomiting since last week.

Fearing the worst, the Education Ministry had ordered all 457 educational institutions at the area to be closed.

The institutions involved are 111 primary and secondary schools, three institutions of higher learning, 14 private schools including international schools, and 347 private kindergartens.

Two days ago, MCA deputy president Dr Mah Hang Soon hurled brickbats at the authorities saying the latter’s incompetence in handling the disaster led to an escalation of the hazard level.

The MCA leader was right.

Both the state and federal governments seem to be clueless on what is happening and how to salvage the situation.

The Education Ministry itself took three days before ordering educational institutions in Pasir Gudang to be shut down.

And to make things worse, on June 22, Johor state exco for health Mohd Khuzzan Abu Bakar announced there were no new cases of people suffering breathing difficulties.

A day later, 20 students from SMK Nusa Damai were rushed to hospital for inhaling toxic fumes.

What was Khuzzan thinking before making the announcement?

Then we have ministers like Zuraida Kamaruddin and Yeo Bee Yin giving conflicting statements.

Three days ago, Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin said the air pollution in Pasir Gudang is linked to the Sungai Kim Kim case, claiming the people tasked to clean up the river did not do a proper job, triggering the latest case.

However, she backtracked from the statement later, saying the recent case of air pollution has nothing to do with Sungai Kim Kim case.

Today, Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said that the government has yet to identify the root cause of the pollution in Pasir Gudang.

So here we have people suffering from toxic fumes for a nearly a week but both the state and federal government are still clueless on what is causing the problem and how to deal with it.

As what MCA leader Mah said, it is sheer incompetence which is causing the problem to escalate.

The government should have learned from its mistakes when dealing with the Sungai Kim Kim incident three months ago. Granted at that time, it was the first time such a thing happened.

However, instead of being prepared, the government was caught off guard again with this second incident.

The two incidents do not inspire confidence among the masses on the government’s ability to manage such crisis.  

It is time for the government to come up with a standard operating procedure (SOP) to deal with biohazard attacks such as this. It is best if they have a specially designated taskforce for this.

Get representatives from relevant ministries and state agencies to be in the taskforce. Learn from these two incidents so that we are better equipped the next time such as an incident happens.

The authorities should also create a proper and effective buffer between industrial and residential area the next time any town council moots development plan. All this could have been avoided if such buffer existed in the first place.

And for Heaven’s sake, please throw the book at whoever is behind this irresponsible act of pollution, no matter how well-connected and influential they may be.

By G Vinod