Methane fumes from the river: 506 poisoned, 111 schools closed in Pasir Gudang

According to investigators, a truck dumped toxic waste into the Kim Sungai River. 166 people hospitalized, nine are in intensive care. It is not clear what type of poisonous gas is responsible for the intoxication.


Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Ministry of Education of Malaysia has ordered the closure of all 111 schools of Pasir Gudang, in the southern Johor State, after the discovery of chemicals in the Sungai Kim Kim river.

At the moment, there are no deaths but 506 people are victims of methane poisoning. Of these, 166 are hospitalized and nine are receiving treatment in intensive care units. While investigations into the incident are proceeding, the authorities arrested three men for dumping  toxic waste in the water. One of the suspects will soon be tried for violating environmental laws.

According to investigators' initial reports, a truck is believed to have dumped toxic waste in southern Johor state last week, releasing dangerous fumes over a large area and causing widespread poisoning symptoms such as nausea and vomiting among the population. It is not yet clear which type of poisonous gas is responsible for intoxication.

The Minister of Education, Maszlee Malik, yesterday arranged for the closure of 43 schools in the area, but then announced the total block of the lessons. After denying the death of a student, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad urged citizens to take preventative measures such as using masks.

Two schools - the Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Pasir Putih and the Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Pasir Putih – closed to the public on 7 March, after students and employees inhaled methane fumes from chemicals illegally discharged into nearby Sungai Kim Kim. In the following days, while the police arrested the three suspects, at least 82 people were hospitalized or requested treatment.

On 11 March, a second wave of methane poisoning took place a few hours after the two schools reopened. On the evening of two days ago, the authorities closed 13 other schools of Pasir Gudang, as hundreds of people reported symptoms of intoxication.

Mohammad Hamdan Wahid, director general of the Johor fire department, said the second wave of poisoning "would never have occurred if the discharged chemicals had been removed immediately". The official reports that the authorities did not dispose of the chemicals after concluding that they were no longer reactive and claims that the costs of the operations affected the decision.

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