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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Noxious smoke

Noxious smoke

A BRAND-new garment factory, Cheung Hing, opened three months ago in the Bang Salang

quarter of Phnom Penh. It provided jobs for many area residents - but soon proved

to be a health hazard for them as well.

"About a month ago, when the factory burned something, they expelled the smoke

through a pipe," recalled Bun Kuon, 35, who runs a shop outside the factory

gates. "People here suffered from the very bad smell ... many people here fell

sick, headaches, nausea."

Nearby residents said they could not even stay in their houses while the factory

was belching smoke.

"The smell is like burning rubber tyres; it's a very bad smell," said Kang

Mealadey, whose house shares a wall with the factory. "We can hardly breathe

when we smell this smoke."

For about a week, the factory was emitting the thick, black smoke for about half

an hour per day, usually at around 5 pm. Sometimes the exhaust was also seen during

the day, which especially concerned parents of the children at the primary school

next door.

The frustrated residents threw stones at the factory wall, then decided to take more

constructive action.

"We complained to the district authorities, and they got them to extend the

[exhaust] pipe," said Bun Kuon. "Now it's okay, no problem."

Second deputy district chief Ket Sany said that he went with municipal environmental

authorities to present the residents' complaints to the factory owner's representative.

"We told the factory that when it runs, it should not do anything to affect

the health of the people in the area," Sany said. "The factory people said

they would take this into account."

He said he had not had any complaints since the factory extended the exhaust pipe,

although he did not know how many meters the pipe had been raised.

He added that neither he nor the environmental authorities had been able to ascertain

what caused the objectionable smoke.

Area residents, and even workers in the factory, said they didn't know what the exhaust

was from either, although some workers reportedly claimed it was from ironing machines

used incorrectly.

The factory owner, a Mr. Ly, told the Post he was "too busy" to talk about

the problem or explain where the smoke was coming from.

Environmental activists say they are worried that pollution problems - fumes like

this, or dumping of chemicals - could become more commonplace as Cambodia's booming

garment industry continues to grow.

Kang Mealadey shares the misgivings. She admits things are better since the pipe

extension, but is concerned that over time the situation will get worse again.

"Maybe when the factory goes well, they will burn every day and it will get

worse ... we are worried if they burn again."

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