Given that this is the second incident so soon after the first, we need to know why this is recurring in such a short time, says Mustafa K Anuar.
Why is this happening again?
This harrowing question encapsulates the distress, frustration, irritation, confusion and anger that has enveloped parents and residents of Pasir Gudang who encountered a recurrence of a toxic calamity after first being hit by a chemical dumping incident in Kim Kim River almost three months ago.
In the Kim Kim River incident, some 4,000 people living in Pasir Gudang had to seek medical treatment for various ailments arising from the chemical pollution.
This time around, toxic fumes first hit Taman Mawar, about 7.5km from Kim Kim River – and later spread elsewhere, affecting some 748 people, including more than 300 schoolchildren seeking treatment for breathing difficulties and vomiting.
Apart from affecting health and safety, the latest pollution forced 475 educational institutions, 14 private and international schools and 347 private kindergartens to close. That is obviously a high price to pay for human negligence of certain parties yet to be identified.
At the time of writing, the authorities have not yet detected the cause of the toxic fumes, which, as indicated above, brought anxiety, fear, outrage and a sense of uncertainty among ordinary people in the areas concerned.
Other questions the people raised are straightforward, relevant and urgent: how could this happen again? When will this trauma end? Is it safe to live here anymore? Can the kids go to school soon? Will similar incidents recur in the near future? What measures have been or will be taken to prevent a recurrence? What are the short and long-term effects of such pollution on the people, particularly children?
These and other questions obviously require adequate and credible responses from the authorities as we are talking about human lives, safety and pollution control here.
This aside, we should also take into consideration the economic hardship that ordinary people have to endure. For instance, fishermen and restaurant or stall owners have seen a substantial drop in their incomes because people are worried that the pollution might have affected fish and other marine life in the region.
That is why it is not unreasonable for these people, and a few civil society groups as well, to call for the setting up of a royal commission of inquiry to look into this grave issue. We need to know who the culprits are who have triggered this ghastly incident so that they can be brought to justice. Compensation for the victims may be considered in this regard.
Given that the second incident occurred within a gap of about three months from the first, we also need to know why this is recurring in such a short time.
Is this a case of poor enforcement of the law? Or has it got to do with a lack of personnel and shortage of sophisticated tools to effectively monitor any breach of the law relating to pollution?
Is the penalty for violating the relevant laws too light to dissuade, say, factory owners from being lax about their toxic effluents and other polluting activities? Shouldn’t industrial zones be located a safe distance away from residential areas, educational facilities and hospitals?
These are some of the questions that need answering, not only for the benefit of the people and local authorities in Johor and those in other states of the federation, especially where industrial activities are found.
After all, there are other cases – reported or hidden – of human negligence that have given rise to pollution and environmental degradation elsewhere in the country, which must be addressed adequately by the authorities concerned.
Lessons learnt from the past can and should prevent recurrences of environmental calamities befalling ordinary people.