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Chemicals in Pasir Gudang toxic fumes can cause cancer, warn experts

PASIR GUDANG (Malaysia) — Some chemicals in the waste dumped into Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang are carcinogenic, while others can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation, said experts.

More than 1,000 people have fallen ill after inhaling toxic fumes from the dumped chemical waste since March 7.

More than 1,000 people have fallen ill after inhaling toxic fumes from the dumped chemical waste since March 7.

PASIR GUDANG (Malaysia) — Some chemicals in the waste dumped into Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang are carcinogenic, while others can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation, said experts.

The country’s energy, science, technology, environment and climate change minister Yeo Bee Yin identified the chemical compounds as methane, hydrogen chloride, acrylonitrile, acrolein, benzene, toluene, xylene and limonene.

A professor specialising in chemical engineering said that except for methane, the other compounds are toxic.

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“Except for methane, which can cause narcotic effects when inhaled, the rest are toxic. Hydrogen chloride and acrolein, especially, are corrosive to the respiratory tract and can cause organ damage,” the professor told The Malaysian Insight on condition of anonymity.

“Toluene, benzene and acrylonitrile are carcinogenic and can damage organs with prolonged exposure. It should be noted that acrolein is a compound that can cause fatality from exposure to levels as low as 10ppm (parts per million), while the lethal concentration of acrylonitrile via inhalation is 2.09ppm per four hours.”

Dr Geetha Subramaniam, head of programme for biotechnology at INTI International University’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, said methane, benzene and toluene can be found in trace amounts in the environment.

Methane and toluene are in vehicle emissions, while benzene is naturally present in the environment at low concentrations, Dr Subramaniam said.

“However, from the quantity that was reported to have been exposed to the public, it will definitely have an adverse effect on the environment and public health.”

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More than 1,000 people have fallen ill after inhaling toxic fumes from the dumped chemical waste since March 7. Twelve people have been admitted to the intensive care unit at the latest count.

All 111 schools in Pasir Gudang have been shut until further notice.

It was reported that tonnes of chemicals were dumped into the river by illegal factory operators, with the Johor Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman saying 2.43 tonnes were collected on the same day the dumping was reported.

15 FACTORY OPERATORS CHARGED IN 5 YEARS  

According to Environment Department data, 15 factory operators were charged with offences under Section 34B of the Environmental Quality Act 1974 between 2013 and last year.

Section 34B stipulates prohibitions against placing and depositing scheduled wastes.

On Tuesday, Ms Yeo said one of the three suspects in the Sungaig Kim Kim case would be charged under Section 34B of the act, which carries a maximum jail term of five years and a RM500,000 (S$166,000) fine.

However, it was reported on Thursday that the suspect has yet to be charged as prosecutors are seeking more information on the case. THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT

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