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Poison gas sickens 200

Workers exposed to chemical war agent

Ploenpote Atthakor and Vasana Chinvarakorn

March 8, 2000 - A leak of a gas used as a lethal chemical weapon in World War One has put 200 workers from a petrochemicals plant in hospital.

At least one worker, identified as Pongpitak Neeranet was in intensive care at Bamrungrat hospital in Rayong from the effects of the leak at the Thai Polycarbonate Co plant in the Map Ta Phut industrial estate.

Mr Pongpitak is suffering pulmonary edema, a condition linked to a high level of water in the lungs and is on life support, doctors said.

The worker was among the first exposed to carbonyl chloride, a toxic, colourless gas also known as phosgene, which leaked after a hose ruptured. The gas is deadly if inhalation is prolonged.

Some 200 people in the Chakklang community, 3km from the estate, fled their homes to avoid poisoning.

Amnat Sa-ngasil, a co-ordinator of the Rayong Environmental Network, said: "They vomited, their eyes and throats became irritated."Most of the victims were later released although 63 remained at four local hospitals-38 at Bamrungrat, 11 at Map Ta Phut, eight at Rayong and six at Ban Chang.

The mother of a woman who was listed as stable in Rayong hospital said she had been told the poisoning might cause chronic lung problems.

She said the family moved from Kamphaeng Phet six years ago when her husband found work at the plant. "We used to think the move was worthwhile," she said. "Now we're having second thoughts."The company, she said, had halved welfare following the economic crisis. "We wish we could go home but we still have money problems."The woman said her rented house was butted against the factory's fence and a chemical smell was common but never so strong as on Monday night.

Another gas victim, Sumalee Kaewlamoon, said she was resting in her house when "suddenly, there was chemical smell and I became short of breath. I was so scared and rushed outside. Had I stayed longer, I do not think I could hold on."Local environmentalists are considering legal action against the industrial estate for damage to local people's health, Mr Amnat said.

"After the estate was established, more people became ill more frequently," said Mr Amnat. "I don't think we need more factories but better control is needed for the existing ones."


-- lookingout (onbreak@fornow.yes), March 07, 2000

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