Three gases were detected in the atmosphere during the recent severe air pollution in Pasir Gudang, one of which was methyl mercaptan gas, and the presence of which was an anomaly, Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said today.
She named the two other gases as acrylonitrile and acrolein.
She also said that due to the saturated atmospheric environment in the Pasir Gudang district, such an anomaly will have an effect on high-risk groups such as children and people suffering from asthma.
“However, these three gases were not detected in the blood and urine samples of 10 patients from eight schools,” she told a joint press conference with Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad on the situation in Pasir Gudang.
Yeo said her ministry has taken immediate steps to dispose of the factors contributing to the presence of these gases and is continuing with the enforcement and monitoring of the chemical-based factories in Pasir Gudang.
Pasir Gudang has 2,005 licensed factories, of which 250 are chemical-based.
Still no confirmation
Yeo said there is no 100 percent confirmation on the cause and effect over the incident.
“The 10 students hospitalised are from eight different schools and so it is a rare case, unlike the Sungai Kim Kim case where you can pinpoint the source and you can clarify the source, and because in the urine and blood, all of them we cannot trace,” she said.
In March, chemical waste dumped into Sungai Kim Kim, also in Pasir Gudang, emitted fumes that affected the health of more than 4,000 people, including students, forcing the government to close all 111 schools in the district.
At the media conference today, Yeo said: “As a precautionary measure, we have disposed of all the factors contributing to the gas that was an anomaly and we are doing our best to establish what we know as an anomaly,” she said, adding that the state government and a team from her ministry are still monitoring the air quality and the gas emitted in the area.
"These are steps that need to be taken very urgently. But I cannot be irresponsible and say, do a drama that (I have) removed something and tell you everything is safe.
Worse pollution than elsewhere
“I need to tell you Pasir Gudang has an air quality baseline that is much more polluted than other parts of Malaysia. So, that is what we know.”
Meanwhile, Dr Dzulkefly said that as of today, 748 people have received treatment, with 709 of them treated as outpatients and 39 hospitalised.
“Four patients are still warded, three at the Sultan Ismail Hospital and one at the Regency Hospital.
“No case required admission to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and no deaths were reported,” he said.
Yesterday, he said, four new cases were reported and all were treated at the Pasir Gudang Health Clinic.
“So far, the patient clinical sample results for chemical tests such as hydrogen cyanide, cyanide, hydrogen thiocyanate and volatile organic substances are negative,” he said.
Dr Dzulkefly said six of the 10 patients aged between 10 and 17 were found to have anxiety symptoms, detected through the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales test.
Three of them are students who were involved in the last Sungai Kim Kim incident, he said.
He said all six students will be given follow-up treatment and referred to child psychiatrists to find out the actual cause of the anxiety symptoms.
Based on the history of exposure, symptom manifestation and psychosocial assessment and the distribution of the schools, there is no reported mass psychogenic hysteria, he said.
Dr Dzulkefly also advised members of the public to get immediate medical attention at the nearest health facility if they experience symptoms of breathing difficulties, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, muscle cramps and weakness.