Monday, May 7, 2012

Toxic fears grip Rayong locals Panel to probe effects of blast as death toll hits 12

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has set up a tripartite committee to examine possible toxic contamination in the Map Ta Phut area following the chemical explosion at a petrochemical factory as the death toll rose to 12.
Ms Yingluck Sunday visited workers injured in the incident before going to Map Ta Phut industrial estate where she chaired a meeting of state agencies to discuss the blast at the Bangkok Synthetics Co (BST) factory on Saturday afternoon.

The prime minister, who was accompanied by Interior Minister Yongyuth Wichaidith and Industry Minister Pongsvas Svasti, ordered the formation of a tripartite committee to look for toxic residues in the environment.

The committee consists of experts from the Industry Ministry, the Pollution Control Department and representatives of local communities.

The move followed mounting fears among residents and factory workers over possible contamination by hazardous substances in the air and water as a result of the blast.

Deputy Public Health Minister Surawit Khonsomboon Sunday said 12 people were killed and 129 wounded in the accident. Nine were killed in the explosion at the BST factory; the other three died at hospital.

Sunday, 27 of the wounded were receiving treatment at Rayong, Map Ta Phut, Bangkok-Rayong and Queen Sirikit hospitals, Mr Surawit said.

Local hospitals were Sunday crowded with relatives and friends of those killed to identify and claim the bodies of their loved ones.

However, some relatives were told by hospital staff that they could not pick up the corpses, as they would be sent to Bangkok for post-mortem examinations.

Some factory workers living near the plant brought their family members to the hospital for medical check ups. (Story continues after the photos)
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra travelled to Map Ta Phut on Sunday for talks, and visited victims of the explosion at the hospital.
Saturday's explosion, fire and leak took place at Bangkok Synthetics Co., Ltd.
The prime minister appeared concerned, and convened a meeting after arriving at the Industrial Estate Sunday morning.

A worker from the factory, who declined to be named, brought his younger sister to Rayong Hospital after she developed a rash, possibly due to exposure to toxic chemicals from the explosion.

The worker said his colleague, Chaiyo Aksornsri, was killed in the blast.

"He shouldn't have died," said the worker, as he scanned through the list of the blast victims at the hospital.

The worker, who lives near the factory, said he took sick leave on Saturday.

"I heard three loud explosions and then there was a big fire. I was worried about my colleagues, but I couldn't do anything," he said.

Charnvit Thongkhamkhiew, a foreman at the factory who witnessed the incident, said the blasts were so powerful that a pickup truck was lifted about 10 metres off the ground.

Mr Charnvit went to Rayong Hospital to claim the body of his close friend Sanom Noichamnong, 53.

Sanom was a Phitsanulok native who had been working at the plant for almost 20 years.

The company Sunday played down concerns over any toxic contamination of the atmosphere or water supply.

It vowed to pay compensation and medical treatment costs for affected people. The company said the blast occurred at 3.20pm at a production unit of BST Elastomers Co, a subsidiary of BST Group.

The accident took place while workers were cleaning up the production line with tuolene, Chaiyot Wongphyat, the company's managing director, said.

"Tuolene is a solvent used in the synthetic rubber manufacturing process.

It is non-carcinogenic, but can cause irritation to the eyes, skin, and respiratory organs," he said.

"Those exposed to the substance could also feel dizziness and vomiting."

Industry Minister Pongsvas Svasti Sunday said the accident had resulted in about 1.5-1.7 billion baht in damage.

He had ordered the closure of the BST factory.

He had also instructed other factories in the industrial estate to recheck their security systems since the operations of more than half of them concern chemicals.

Air quality checks had found no high levels of hazardous substances, he said, adding it was now safe for residents who had been evacuated from the area to return to their homes.

Thousands of residents in 10 communities were told to move out of the area for safety reasons shortly after the accident. MR Pongsvas said warning systems in the communities around the Map Ta Phut industrial estate should be upgraded.

"Many people did not hear the warnings and evacuation order through the community's loudspeaker because it was raining heavily at the time," he said.