HERE we go again! Pasir Gudang – and its over 100,000 residents – is again reeling under yet another threat of chemical pollution.
However, while authorities aren’t yet sure of the source of pollution this time, it’s clear how we arrived at this juncture less than three months after the Sungai Kim Kim crisis.
There looks to have been an improper disposal of waste, particularly chemical waste, from the factories in the industrial area, coupled with lack of enforcement and development planning.
In other words, this latest crisis – like the first in March when it erupted and sickened almost 4,000 people – was entirely preventable and certainly due to the act of man.
It’s no wonder then that the Johor Ruler is fuming – along with the folk in Pasir Gudang, who have to deal, yet again, with the ill effects on their health, the closure of 475 educational institutions and the negative impact on their livelihood.
While both the state and federal agencies will eventually resolve the pollution crisis in Pasir Gudang, they had better get themselves ready for similar incidents in the future.
So, until and unless the Malaysian public start to cultivate and practise the civic responsibility of keeping their environment clean, such incidents will, unfortunately, recur.
This is unavoidable because, as Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin mentioned in her press conference, the development and growth of industries in Pasir Gudang is unsustainable.
If we were to take Pasir Gudang – over 2,000 factories within a 359.57sq km area alone – as a microcosm for the rest of the country, it would appear that pretty much of our development is unsustainable, too.
In fact, even as the crisis unfolds in Johor, over 300km away, the water treatment plant in Sungai Semenyih had to be shut down on Wednesday after a foul odour from pollution was detected.
Already, we are facing the rapid deforestation of our jungles, muddying the quality of water and jeopardising our supply in the face of climate change, and forcing our wildlife to spill into the urban areas.
And that’s not even counting our recent – though undeserved – reputation as the world’s waste capital, which, by the way, didn’t take into account the rubbish that we dump ourselves or the plastic straws and bags we continue to use and throw away.
The paltry but maximum fine of RM1,000 meted out to a landowner for illegal dumping in Penang is a dismal reflection of how much our attitude towards the environment has to play catch-up with the realities of our own situation.
It’s good to know that the government has plans to toughen up enforcement, including drafting a new Bill to replace the Environmental Quality Act 1974 and putting in place heavier fines, some as high as RM5mil, to curb pollution.
But as one expert puts it – enforcement officers can’t be on site for 24 hours every day.
Ultimately, making sure that our environment is clean and safe – for us and our children – still falls back on us.
So, what’s keeping us from doing it?