MANY are outraged and rightly so. The disaster caused by the dumping of toxic waste into the once-brown waters of Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang, Johor, has caused almost 3,000 students and residents, along with several reporters, to be admitted to hospital, with seven in the intensive care unit of Hospital Sultan Ismail.
Fortunately, no life has been lost. It was a crisis waiting to happen as the dumping of the chemical waste, believed to have originated from tyre recycling factories, has been going on since 2012, and the river is now “dead”.
All this happened right under the nose of the enforcers, including the Department of Environment (DOE), and others that were supposed to monitor the operations of factories and shut down the illegal ones.
However, nothing was done. No one lifted a finger despite all the reports by residents, whose lives were being threatened by “environmental terrorists” in their midst.
Evidently, enforcement teams in Johor had ignored the alarm bells since 2012.
The New Straits Times yesterday reported that residents had complained numerous times about the water slowly turning from brown to black, but no action was ever taken.
It is worrying that the existence of murky and polluted rivers, many of which meander through our industrial areas, seems not to have troubled our sensibilities. Only the spectre of death worries us.
With polluted rivers becoming the norm, we are not about to call for the setting up of more task forces.
The ministries responsible should reveal plans to clean up our rivers and crack down on polluters. We expect to see a series of press conferences detailing urgent measures to clean up the mess.
The high cost involved in doing so is also not an excuse for a do-nothing policy. We need to know the root causes of the things that are killing our rivers.
Our efforts in dealing with the problem have so far been a major failure. If nothing is done now, we will begin to worry about similar issues elsewhere for sure.
It is also time that those who have failed to act against the polluters are held accountable for all that is going on.
Officials cannot continue claiming ignorance, or innocence, each time something like this happens under their watch. It is unacceptable that they are not even able to detect the illegal factories, which are openly operating and polluting the environment.
Disciplinary and legal action must be taken if they are found to be negligent or corrupt.
It is also hoped this whole drama of getting to the bottom of the issue does not end in an anti-climax of the same old promises being repeated, with little action to actually solve the problem.