65 ill after Phayao toxic blast

PHAYAO: Experts are testing for air and water pollution in Phayaois Ban Nam Waen where villagers have fallen sick after an agricultural chemical storehouse exploded.

Chiang Kham hospital carried out health checks on up to 65 residents after locals started vomiting as a result of breathing strong, unpleasant fumes from the burned-out storehouse, deputy Phayao governor Nimit Wanchaithanawong said yesterday.

He said officials have asked the hospital to help people who “need both physical and mental treatment” following a meeting on ways to tackle the health and environmental impact of the explosion.

While medical staff will take care of villagers’ health, experts including academics from Phayao University will collect air and water samples in Ban Nam Waen to check the long-term impact of the chemical explosion.

The environmental inspection will be carried out monthly for six months, Mr Nimit said.

Ban Nam Waen residents said they became panicked after they heard the sound of explosions coming from the storehouse on Sunday. Thick, black smoke was then seen billowing out of the burning building.

“The black smoke was terrifying,” said Pan Kanan, 62, who witnessed the blast and subsequent blaze.

Firemen managed to put out the fire, but villagers in a 100-metre radius of the site began to smell the stench of toxic fumes, he said.

Locals were forced to wear masks over their mouths and noses, because the chemical smell was unbearable. Those living in close vicinity to the storehouse were told to evacuate to other areas.

Chiang Kham police officers have been patrolling the village to prevent robberies at houses that have been evacuated.

The fumes are believed to have been caused by a mix of paddy husks and chemicals, said Ban Nam Waen Moo 2 village head Ruai Saengsichan.

The husks were earlier used to cover burning rubbish near the storehouse. “Environmental officials will handle them as quickly as possible,” Mr Nimit said.

Experts attached to Phayao Military District yesterday made an initial inspection of the storehouse remains.

Ordnance and explosives expert Maj Chetsada Kaenchan said investigators found traces of a white chemical believed to be ammonium nitrate, a hazardous substance which is liable to explode if stored in an area with poor ventilation and high temperatures.

Storehouse owner Panchaphon Sahapricha and his wife yesterday apologised to their neighbours for the incident.

His wife estimated the explosion had caused damage worth five million baht.

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