Malaysia: Another 780 people affected, with 113 warded in Pasir Gudang chemical crisis

mohd farhaan shah The Star 15 Mar 19;

PASIR GUDANG: A total of 780 new cases have been registered at the medic base at the Pasir Gudang Indoor Stadium as of 12am on Thursday (March 14), bringing the total number of people affected by the chemical pollution here to 3,555 cases.

However, Johor Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman Dr Sahruddin Jamal said only 202 individuals received further treatment at hospitals, with 113 warded.

He said many who were hospitalised earlier had been discharged.

“A total of 531 victims who received treatment at Sultanah Aminah Hospital (HSA) and Sultan Ismail Hospital (HSI) have been discharged and allowed to go home,” he said.

It was reported on Thursday that the number of people affected by the toxic air around here had jumped to 2,775 cases within the first eight days of the chemical waste being dumped into Sungai Kim Kim.

Johor waiting for toxicology report to see if cyanide also in Sungai Kim Kim toxic waste
mohd farhaan shah The Star 15 Mar 19;

PASIR GUDANG: The Johor government is waiting for a toxicology report from the Chemistry Department to see if there is cyanide in the chemical waste dumped into Sungai Kim Kim here.

State Health, Environment and Agriculture committee chairman Dr Sahruddin Jamal said they were still waiting for the report before being able to confirm the matter.

“Let us wait for the report from the department first," he said during a visit to the operations centre at the Pasir Gudang Indoor Stadium here Friday (March 15).

Some 780 new cases have been registered at the medical base at the stadium as of midnight Thursday (March 14).

This brings the total number of people affected by the chemical pollution here to 3,555.

Sahruddin was asked to comment on a tweet by Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Ibni Sultan Ibrahim who urged the authorities to put a halt to political campaigning, saying it was time to work and govern.

“Wake up! People are suffering and some dying,” he said, adding that cyanide was found in most of the victims and this was deadly.

'Toxic fumes contain acrylonitrile'
TEH ATHIRA YUSOF New Straits Times 16 Mar 19;

KUALA LUMPUR: THE toxic fumes that engulfed several areas in Pasir Gudang contain acrylonitrile, a chemical compound which metabolises into cyanide inside the human body.

Universiti Kebangsaan Ma-laysia Science and Technology Faculty (chemistry) senior lecturer Dr Darfizzi Derawi said this was consistent with the symptoms suffered by the schoolchildren exposed to the toxic fumes.

“Upon absorption into the bloodstream, acrylonitrile metabolises into cyanide, a gas commonly known as a silent killer. So those who are exposed to the toxic fumes will experience symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.

“The massive illegal dumping of waste caused uncontrollable pollution, which emitted toxic fumes and this was made worse by extreme heat.

“The waste contain properties which are mostly carcinogens and are harmful to humans. Long-term exposure to the toxic fumes can cause cancer,” he told the New Straits Times.

He said the hot weather was one of the factors that sped up the vaporisation of toxic fumes, which then spread to nearby schools.

“Since we are experiencing hot weather, the waste found in Sungai Kim Kim vapourised at a faster rate. This enabled it to spread easily.

“School areas are exposed to air-borne pollutants as they are open and this was proven from the recent incidents.”

Dr Darfizzi advised people in the area to stay indoors and limit outdoor activities, especially babies and young children.

He added that people should wear the R95 face masks when dealing with organic matter or oil-based substances.

The Johor government is waiting for a toxicology report from the Chemistry Department to see if there were traces of cyanide in the chemical waste dumped in Sungai Kim Kim.

State Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman Dr Sahruddin Jamal said he did not wish to speculate until the results were out.

Earlier, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad responded to a tweet asking why the government failed to issue an evacuation order considering the danger posed by the toxic fumes, but imposed a 3m distance for non-smoking areas.

He replied that volatile organic components such as benzene and toluene found in the Pasir Gudang sample were also found in cigarette smoke.

However, he said, only 5 ppm (parts per million) of hydrogen cyanide was present in the air readings of Pasir Gudang, compared with 46 ppm in every puff.

Pasir Gudang residents lament lack of information on methane poisoning, vow to sue
Norbakti Alias Channel NewsAsia 15 Mar 19;

PASIR GUDANG, Johor: “First, the doctors said six hours of observation, then it became 24 hours and later 48 hours … After that, they allowed us to go home … I could see that they were not very sure of what they were treating,” said Ms E Sujatha.

Her 11-year old son, who fainted at SK Taman Pasir Putih on Mar 7, was one of the earliest victims of the toxic waste pollution in Pasir Gudang that has since affected more than 2,700 people.

In the hospital, the doctors were not aware of what chemicals had affected the patients. Instead, some patients were given antibiotics or anti-vomiting medication, she recounted when interviewed by Channel NewsAsia on Thursday (Mar 14).

“Right now, we don’t know who is to blame (for the chemical dumping) but we are determined to take legal action ... For the victims’ families, we would really like to go all out to sue them.”

Ms Sujatha is among residents in Pasir Gudang who say the situation could have been better handled by the Johor Disaster Management Committee, especially in the area of public communications.

Mr Izurin Muhammad Amin, another resident in the area added: “At the moment, residents are in a panic and no one (from the state government) is giving any accurate information”.

He said most residents are ready to be evacuated if ordered to do so.

Mr Muhammad Fauzi Rohani, the chairman of a residents body against environment pollution in Sungai Kim Kim said the authorities should provide more information to residents through a townhall session.

“Right now, children are still playing outdoors as no one has informed us on how dangerous the situation is,” he said.

“Once the culprit is proven guilty, we will prepare litigation,” he stated.

He said those who have been affected indirectly should also be compensated. Over the past week, residents had to put up with a lot of inconvenience, including endless ambulance sirens at night, he added.

When asked on Friday whether the local government could have done more in terms of public communications, State Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman Sahruddin Jamal did not respond directly.

Dr Sahruddin said: “I hope all the state assemblymen and members of parliament will meet the people to explain and tell them what has been done so that the people will understand.”

Two schools - Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Pasir Putih and Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Pasir Putih - were first ordered to shut on Mar 7, after students and school employees breathed in methane fumes from chemicals that were illegally dumped in the nearby Sungai Kim Kim.

Initial cleaning works on Mar 8 had inadvertently worsened the chemical reaction, as the contractor engaged was not experienced in dealing with chemical waste.

Over the weekend, at least 82 people were hospitalised or sought treatment. Three men were detained.

A second wave of methane poisoning hit just hours after the two schools re-opened on Monday.

On Wednesday, all 111 schools in Pasir Gudang were ordered shut by Malaysia’s education ministry.

Some residents have reportedly evacuated from the area.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stressed on Thursday that there was no need to declare a state of emergency.

“No … it has not reached that stage (where an emergency has to be declared). There is no need for any evacuation, but we must be careful," Dr Mahathir said.

The clean-up is expected to be completed within a week.

Despite the assurances, some residents do not want to take the risk.

Mr Izurin said that he has moved his family out of Pasir Gudang.

For Ms Sujatha, she has sent her three children to Kluang, around 120 km away from the affected area. “Now we feel safer for our kids by sending them away but what happens to those who don’t have siblings or relative nearby?”she asked.

Meanwhile, the number of people affected continues to grow.

The Pasir Gudang Indoor Stadium has been converted into a temporary treatment area. On Thursday night, people continued trickling in to seek medical attention.

According to a man who declined to be identified, he brought his 11 year-old son to the treatment centre after he complained of dizziness.

“He started to vomit and I rushed him here to have a proper scanning by the medical team,” he said.

Source: cna/aw

Officials not taking chances with air quality
The Star 16 Mar 19;

PASIR GUDANG: Despite an improvement in air quality, the authorities are not taking any chances in preventing another possible wave of toxic fumes, says Yeo Bee Yin.

The Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Minister said about 680m of the 1.5km stretch of Sungai Kim Kim had been cleaned up so far.

“This stretch of the river is the most polluted due to illegal dumping of waste by irresponsible quarters,” she told a press conference yesterday.

Yeo said the authorities used mobile detectors and the readings recorded an improvement in the

“There has been a downward trend starting from Wednesday. However, we do not want to take things for granted as there is still much cleaning work to be done,” she said.

Yeo also announced the setting up of a scientific committee to investigate the polluted incident more scientifically to help the state government.

She added that the committee, which is headed by a professor from Uni­versiti Tek­nologi Malaysia as well as other experts, would focus on four matters: data management, prevention of future waves, environmental monitoring and groundwater and soil vapour intrusion.

State Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman Dr Sahruddin Jamal said a total of 73 victims, who were being treated at Sultan Ismail Hospital and Sul­tanah Aminah Hospital, had been discharged.

“Up until 3pm, from a total of 480 victims who received initial treatment at the medic base at the Pasir Gudang Indoor Stadium, only 20 have been referred to hospitals for further check-ups,” he said.

Life goes on in Kg Paya, but with precautions
The Star 16 Mar 19;

PASIR GUDANG: Villagers staying near Sungai Kim Kim here are going about their daily tasks as usual despite the risk of toxic fumes.

The home of Osman Mohamad, who hails from Kampung Paya near Taman Pasir Putih here, is located only 20m away from the river.

The 52-year-old said he would leave if the authorities told him to, but for now he is staying put to guard his home.

According to him, there are a total of 68 families in the village.

“We don’t go out as often and we drink more water,” he said.

Another villager, 40-year-old Had­e­lisuri Rabu, questioned the way the clean-up was being carried out by authorities.“I want to know if the work is to clean the river of pollution or to widen it.

“They keep digging the river banks and not the riverbed, which is the most polluted area,” Hade­lisuri said.

He added that the operation was carried out very early in the morning.

Meanwhile, State Health, Envi­ronment and Agriculture Com­mittee chairman Dr Sahruddin Jamal urged the public and villagers to stay away from Sungai Kim Kim for the moment.

“The authorities are in the midst of cleaning up the river so for safety measures, please do not go near the scene.

“I also urge the public to follow the safety measures recommended by authorities, including wearing face masks when they step outside their home,” he said.

'Toxic waste dumping going on for years'
Tasnim Lokman New Straits Times 15 Mar 19;

KUALA LUMPUR: THE dumping of toxic waste in Sungai Kim Kim has apparently been happening for years.

L ong- suffering residents have alerted the authorities to the matter, but it seems nothing has been done to address it.

The New Straits Times was alerted to the matter by water quality and modelling specialist Dr Zaki Zainudin, who has been monitoring the river for nearly 10 years.

“The ecological disaster of Sungai Kim Kim was a tragedy waiting to happen.

“It was an open secret that the river had been turned into a dumping site since 2012.”

Citing one of his earliest visits to the river in 2012, Zaki said locals told him about suspicious black patches flowing into the river, usually appearing at night, on the weekends and after heavy rain.

He said locals had complained about it to the authorities, including the Department of Environment (DoE), but there was no response.

“The problem has now reached a bigger scale. There were signs of illegal dumping happening all this while. People voiced their concerns, but no action was taken.

“Only when things are bad do the authorities lo ok into it.” Zaki said he last checked the river in 2017 and discovered the previously brown water of Sungai Kim Kim had turned black .

“In five years, the water had deteriorated beyond imagination,” he said, adding that an analysis of the water sample from the river showed it had zero oxygen levels with no aquatic life.

“The river is technically dead.”

Zaki said many rivers in the country were being polluted, but what happened to Sungai Kim Kim was the “fastest deterioration” he had seen.

He said the problem could have been checked in 2012 when people started to notice the illegal dumping, if not for the lethargic reaction of the authorities.

He noted that Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin had revealed that 25 rivers — 16 in Johor, five in the Klang Valley, three in Penang and one in Melaka — were categorised as class five.

He said Sungai Kim Kim’s rapid death was due to a cocktail of issues — illegal dumping of waste for many years, the rapid development of the Tanjung Langsat industrial area, the characteristic of the river itself and a possibly ineffective sewage treatment plant upstream.

He said companies dumping toxic waste into the river were smart as they did it in different locations and different times.

He said due to the river’s slow-moving water, the toxic waste remains in it for a long time.

On top of the toxic waste, he said, locals and experts also noticed black residue upstream near a sewage treatment plant.

“Sungai Kim Kim is much more sensitive to pollution and with the accumulated toxic discharges thrown in, the river never had a chance.”

Yeo told the Dewan Rakyat on Wednesday that toxic substances that polluted the river were linked to chemicals used to recycle tyres.

She said DoE had sent samples to the Chemistry Department for a more detailed analysis. The results, she said, found organic solvents such as delaminate, which was used in tyre pyrolysis.

The owner of a chemical factory in Kulai was arrested on Sunday in a joint operation by DoE and police. On Wednesday, the owner and a worker of a shredded waste factory from Taman Pasir Putih in Pasir Gudang were arrested.

Pasir Gudang chemical spill: Facts about the 9 chemicals found and their health impact
Goh Yan Han Straits Times 16 Mar 19;

SINGAPORE - The illegal dumping of toxic chemicals into a river in Pasir Gudang, Johor, has sickened more than 2,700 people, including hundreds of students.

Malaysia's Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said on Wednesday (March 13) that a number of chemicals have been ascertained from the samples taken.

They include benzene, acrolein, acrylonitrile, hydrogen chloride, methane, toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene and d-limonene.

What are these chemicals, where are they usually found, and what is their possible impact on humans?

What: Benzene is a chemical that has a sweet, aromatic, gasoline-like smell. Most people can begin to smell benzene in the air at 1.5 to 4.7 parts per million, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Where: Benzene can be found in crude oil, gasoline and cigarette smoke. It is also used to make some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes and pesticides.

Impact: The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified benzene as carcinogenic to humans. Human exposure to benzene has been associated with a range of acute and long-term adverse health effects and diseases, including narcosis - in which a person blacks out - and aplastic anaemia - which results in a drop in blood cell count - according to the World Health Organization.

Some symptoms of prolonged benzene exposure include headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, tremors and loss of consciousness.

What: Acrolein is a clear, colourless, or yellow liquid with a pungent, suffocating odour.

Where: The chemical has been used to control plant and algae growth in irrigation canals. It has also been used to manufacture other chemicals, as a warning agent in gases, as a test gas for gas masks, in military poison gases, for making colloidal metals, in leather tanning, and as a fixative in histology.

Impact: Inhaled acrolein is highly toxic and is irritating to the upper respiratory tract even at low concentrations, according to the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Acrolein is severely irritating to the skin and eyes.

What: Acrylonitrile is a colourless, liquid, man-made chemical with a sharp, onion- or garlic-like odour.

Where: Acrylonitrile is used mostly to make plastics, acrylic fibres, and synthetic rubber. As acrylonitrile evaporates quickly, it is most likely to be found in the air around chemical plants where it is made, according to the ATSDR.

Impact: Exposure to large amounts of the chemical affects mainly the nervous system. Symptoms can include headaches and nausea, while exposure to higher concentrations may temporarily damage red blood cells and the liver.

Long-term exposure to acrylonitrile may increase the chances of getting cancer, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

What: Hydrogen chloride has a strong irritating smell. The chemical's colour ranges from colourless to slightly yellow. Hydrogen chloride vapour is corrosive.

Where: It can be formed during the burning of many types of plastic. The chemical has many uses, including for cleaning, pickling, electroplating metals and tanning leather. The chemical exists naturally as liquid hydrochloric acid in the stomach to aid with digestion.

Impact: Hydrogen chloride gas is intensely irritating to the mucous membranes of the nose, throat, and respiratory tract. Exposure to high concentrations can rapidly lead to swelling and spasm of the throat and suffocation, according to the ATSDR.

What: Methane is a colourless, odourless and highly flammable gas.

Where: Methane is a primary component of natural gas, and natural sources of it include bodies of water, wildfires and digestive processes of animals.

Impact: There are no serious health effects from long-term exposure to methane. It is only harmful if the concentration is so high that it displaces oxygen in the air, which could lead to symptoms such as rapid breathing and a rapid heart rate.

What: Toluene is a clear, colourless liquid with a distinctive smell.

Where: It occurs naturally in crude oil and in the tolu tree. Toluene is also produced in the process of making gasoline and other fuels from crude oil. The chemical is used in making paints, paint thinners, fingernail polish, lacquers, adhesives, and rubber and in some printing and leather tanning processes.

Impact: Symptoms of repeated exposure include headaches, sleepiness, and an impairment in ability to think clearly.

Low to moderate, day-after-day exposure to toluene can cause tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, and loss of appetite, according to the ATSDR.

What: Commercial grade xylene is a clear, colourless liquid with a sweet, aromatic odour.

Where: It is mostly obtained from crude petroleum. Xylene is widely used as a thinner and solvent in paints, inks, adhesives, and other products, and also as a solvent in pesticide products.

Impact: Xylene irritates the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. Acute exposure to its vapour may irritate the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract.

Symptoms of xylene poisoning include central nervous system effects like headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness.

What: Ethylbenzene is a colourless liquid that smells like gasoline.

Where: It is found naturally in oil, and is also used in fuels. Products like gasoline, paints, pesticides, carpet glue, varnishes, and automobile products contain ethylbenzene.

Impact: Exposure to high levels of ethylbenzene in the air for short periods can cause eye and throat irritation. Exposure to higher levels can result in vertigo and dizziness.

What: D-limonene is a colourless liquid or oil with a pleasant lemon-like smell.

Where: The chemical is widely used as a flavour or fragrance additive in cosmetics, food, and industrial solvents. It is a major constituent in citrus oils such as orange, lemon and grapefruit.

In the Pasir Gudang incident, the d-limonene is from the recycling of tyres, said Ms Yeo.

Impact: D-limonene is considered to have fairly low toxicity. Studies involving humans demonstrated low toxicity of d-limonene after single and repeated doses for up to a year.