Johor has closed 111 schools over toxic gases from a polluted river – here’s the full timeline of what happened

The federal government has declared a state of emergency over the toxic fumes, which have caused almost 1,000 victims to be warded or sent to clinics after suffering symptoms of gas poisoning.

The Johor Government has closed all 111 schools in the Pasir Gudang district after almost 1,000 people, including schoolchildren, fell victim to gas poisoning over the past two weeks.

The gases are believed to have been caused by the illegal dumping of toxic chemicals into into the Sungai Kim Kim river by factories in the industrial estate.

Here’s a full timeline of what happened:

March 7:

Some 2.43 tonnes of chemical waste was dumped into the Sungai Kim Kim river under a bridge in Kota Masai, The Star reported. The chemicals, which were used to dissolve metal, are believed to contain traces of heavy metals.

The chemicals washed downstream and polluted the air with toxic gas. Residents and students in two schools located in the Paris Gudang area started vomiting and fainting after breathing in the strong smell from the river, The Star said.

A total of 30 people were admitted to hospital, Bernama reported. The schools, located some 500 metres from the dumping site, were ordered to close.

March 8:

The number of victims hospitalised over the toxic fumes rose to 79, The Star reported.

March 9:

Five police reports were lodged on the chemical dumping, and police began investigating the case, Bernama said. Authorities said the chemical clean up would start on Mar 11 and would last five days.

March 11:

Three men were arrested in relation to the chemical dumping, including the owner of an illegal tyre recycling factory in Kulai and the owner of a waste processing factory in Pasir Putih, Bernama reported.

March 12:

A total of 306 victims were admitted to hospitals or sent to health clinics after being affected by the toxic fumes, Bernama said.

According to Bernama, the two schools that were first affected had initially reopened, but were quickly closed once more. After students in two more schools suffered health issues from inhaling the gas, a total of 13 schools were instructed to close.

A resident of Kampung Bukit Pulai told The Star that the river had turned black, with dead fish and monitor lizards floating in the sludge.

March 13:

The number of victims rose to 506, Bernama said – and the number of schools ordered to close rose to 34, The Star reported.

However, Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Osman Sapian said the government would not declare a state of emergency for the area, adding that the situation was “contained and under control”, Bernama reported.

March 14:

The number of victims nearly doubled to almost 1,000 – including 30 students from a school located 6 kilometers from the dumping site, The Star said.

Despite Osman’s comments, the federal government passed an emergency motion and declared a state of emergency over the situation, The Star reported. The education ministry also ordered all 111 schools in and around Pasir Gudang to close indefinitely, citing the critical situation.

In a separate report by Bernama, the Johor Sultan pledged a donation of RM1 million (US$244,530) to assist with the cleanup, which Johor officials said would be used to buy equipment for rescue teams.

One of the arrested suspects, the owner of the factory in Kulai, was initially expected to be charged, but the prosecution had postponed the case to collect “additional information”, Bernama said.

The suspect faces a maximum jail term of five years and a RM500,000 fine for breaching Section 34B of the Environmental Quality Act 1974.

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