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DoE director-general Norlin Jaafar said the factories were found to have high levels of methyl mercaptan readings when the incident was first reported.NSTP/Hairul Anuar Rahim

JOHOR BARU: The Environment Department (DoE) has identified three chemical-based factories as the most likely sources of the air pollution in Pasir Gudang last month.

DoE director-general Norlin Jaafar said the factories were found to have high levels of methyl mercaptan readings when the incident was first reported.

“The three factories were identified through a process of elimination following checks on all 257 chemical-based factories in Pasir Gudang,” she said.

“All of them are also located within a 3km radius of Sekolah Agama Taman Mawar and SK Pasir Gudang 4.”

Students from the two schools were among the first to be affected during the incident. They had symptoms such as vomiting, nausea and breathing difficulties.

“The three factories have been ordered to close and we are currently in the process of completing the investigation,” she said.

“Once it is completed, we will submit it to the prosecution office for further action.”

Methyl mercaptan is a colourless, flammable gas with a smell similar to rotten eggs or cabbage.

It was one of the three substances that were detected in the area. The others were acrylonitrile and acrolein.

“Although blood tests on the victims failed to detect the substance, we believe methyl mercaptan is the most likely cause as its could contribute to the symptoms suffered by the victims,” Norlin told reporters at the Johor DoE headquarters.

Norlin said DoE had also issued 12 orders to halt the operation of equipment, 60 notices and 136 compounds totaling RM272,000 following checks on 257 factories between June 20 and July 17.

“We have also conducted integrated operations with other agencies like the Pasir Gudang Municipal Council, the Fire and Rescue Department and the Chemistry Department.

“We will continue to conduct these operations especially to identify illegal factories that are operating in the Pasir Gudang area,” she said.

State DoE director Wan Abdul Latif Wan Jaafar said, based on municipal council records, the District Office and the Land Office, 18 illegal factories had been identified in the Pasir Gudang area.

“Action has been taken on three of the factories. Other agencies need to take action on these factories because some of them are found to be operating on government reserve land,” he said.

Norlin urged the public to contact the department if they had any information about pollution.

“The public should not be afraid to come forward with such information because their identities will be protected. We offer rewards of up to RM5,000 for accurate information,” she said.

Norlin said DoE was conducting pollution loading analysis and carrying out a capacity study to evaluate and analyse the air, river water and underground water as well as the possibility that contaminated earth could have led to air pollution in Pasir Gudang.

“The study is being carried out by the Technical and Scientific Committee which had its first meeting on July 15.

“The committee comprises more than 30 experts from various fields as well as representatives from relevant agencies.

“An initial report on the study is expected to be issued within the next six weeks,” she said.

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