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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The Shung Sun's first victim?

The Shung Sun's first victim?

victim.jpg
victim.jpg

PORT WORKER PICH SOVANN, DIED DEC. 16.

His wife Sok Poeu by his head.

SIHANOUKVILLE - Pich Sovann worked up until the last week or so of his life in the

hold of the toxic waste ship Shung Sun amid swirling clouds of mercury-contaminated

dust.

Sovann and eight 30 to 40-man "units" of port workers - up to 320 men -

began hauling out the stuff in rotations from Dec 4, four days after it had docked

in port. Sovann's mother told the Post that he was the only worker who didn't use

a mask, and that he worked only in his underpants.

Testimony from Sovann's family will never be evidential proof, only ancedotal. However,

he finished working with the rest of his colleagues on the Shung Sun Dec 9, got sick

Dec 13 displaying symptoms - by his family without prompting- that medical textbooks

say are the classic signs of mercury poisoning, and was dead Dec 16.

His wife Sok Poeu and her three young children live in a wooden shack near a railway

compound on the outskirts of the port.

On the night of Dec 13 Poeu says Sovann came home and developed agonizing pains in

his stomach, complaining his stomach was "on fire" and that his eyes felt

as if they were "steaming".

Poeu coined him - rubbing a coin across his body in traditional healing - while Sovann,

throughout the night, drank four full pails of water to try to slake a raging thirst.

He vomited after each drink.

His eyes and mouth discharged watery matter.

Poeu decided she shouldn't try to care for him any more, because she was born in

the same year as her husband and according to Khmer tradition, one born under the

same Chinese/Khmer symbol as the sick person cannot treat that person.

Sovann's mother nursed him throughout the second day and night of his illness.

Poeu regrets that now. She blames herself for not getting Sovann to the hospital

sooner. That didn't happen till Dec 15.

"I feel so regretful about my husband because we kept him at home for a long

time," she said, holding back her tears for most of the interview. "If

I took him sooner [maybe] it would not have happened like this."

The 30-year-old father of three had had headaches before, but nothing like this,

both his wife and his mother say, and he always recovered after coining.

The grieving women said doctors at Sihanoukville hospital tried seven times to get

blood and urine samples from Sovann, but could not. "His blood was frozen,"

Poeu said. Sovann's feet became numb and "black". They say every doctor

there told them that Sovann had been poisoned.

Sovann's mother mimicked her son's protracted death throes, her face grimacing and

her arms extended and tremoring in the air. Sovann's seizures were the same symptoms

of chronic mercury poisoning, as was his thirst, and vomiting, and numbness.

Sovann died Dec 16. The Sihanoukville hospital director wanted to operate on the

sick man, but decided he was too weak. The family had brought Sovann to hospital

too late, the director said. Koh Santepheap wasn't about to break the toxic waste

story until the next day; the hospital director said no-one knew about the poisoning.

The family was given Sovann's body to cremate the next day.

No tests or autopsies were done. Poeu has 20,000 riel to her name and has not received

any compensation.

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