More than 110 schools have been closed in Malaysia after hundreds of people fell sick from inhaling toxic fumes coming from a local river.
The Minister of Education Dr. Maszlee Malik issued the closure Wednesday in a statement, saying “all students, teachers and staff of the affected schools are not required to attend school until the situation is fully restored,” the Borneo Post reported.
A total 111 schools in the industrial town of Pasir Gudang were closed after more than 500 people, many of them school children, fell sick from exposure to toxic fumes emanating from the Sungai Kim Kim river where chemical waste was dumped last Thursday.
Of those sicken, 166 have been hospitalized and nine have been placed in intensive care.
The crisis began last Thursday when an illegal tire recycling factory allegedly dumped chemical waste into the river.
The situation became known after pupils at a nearby school began vomiting and experiencing shortness of breath.
Now in its seven day of the crisis, students of schools in the river’s vicinity are still seeking treatment.
“The Education Ministry has requested that all parties to take precautionary measures and adhere to the directives from the authorities, from time to time,” Malik said.
Meanwhile, several lawmakers have been urging the federal government to declare a state of emergency around the river.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail also said she would be visiting the affected area Thursday evening to gauge whether it necessitates an emergency, the New Straits Times reported.
“I will be in Pasir Gudang in the evening to look at the current situation and how to deal with the matter, which include [declaring an] emergency. As of now, the problem is considered to be of state-level [crisis],” she said.
But Dato Osman bin Sapian, the Menteri Besar of Johor, which is the head of the state’s government ruling party, earlier Wednesday said there are no plans for such a declaration to be made and in the meantime he will focus solely on clean-up operations along the river, the Nation reported.
He told reporters following a disaster management committee Wednesday that there is no need to evacuate the area, advising those who live within 5 kilometers of the river to take extra precautions.
“So far, at least 1.2km of the river is believed to be polluted. We hope to clean up the river within a week as we have increased our contractors from one to three,” Osman said.
He said his government had allocated $15.64 million for crisis management and support for the victims.
The cleanup work will involve a roughly 1-mile stretch of the river, environment and agriculture committee chairperson Sahruddin Jamal said, Malaysia Kini reported.
“Several contractors have been appointed to carry out the cleaning work immediately so that controlling measures can be taken,” Sahruddin said in a statement.
The ministry of environment said Wednesday that it has so far confirmed at least eight of the chemicals that were dumped in the river, but there are still others they have yet to identify.
Three people were arrested earlier this week in connection to the dumping. They were expected to be formally arraigned Thursday morning but it was postponed as the Deputy Public Prosecutor has asked the Department of Environment for additional information.