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Silence on toxin test results

A security guard blocks the entry to the MH Bio-Energy factory after villages claimed toxic pollution from the plant killed fish and caused health problems in Duong village, Kandal province, in August.

Villagers are still searching for answers more than a month after a spill from a Kandal province biofuel plant was suspected of killing off 57 tonnes of fish.

We are still concerned there could be toxins in the river.

Frustration continued to mount Wednesday in Kandal province’s Duong village as government officials again stonewalled demands to release test results from a toxic spill suspected of killing thousands of fish in villages near a controversial biofuel factory.

Villagers say they have not yet been able to resume fishing after the chemical spill in August, which they charge was responsible for killing 57 tonnes of fish worth more than US$100,000, and have had no way to earn a living for the past month after officials cautioned them against using the potentially polluted water.

“We are still concerned there could be toxins in the river affecting our human health,” said Duong village Chief Chao Bun Thong.

Villagers have reported being afflicted with itchy skin and rashes after bathing in the water, he said. At the same time, offers of money from the factory owners, which came despite denials that the factory had any role in causing the damage, have left many villagers feeling ashamed, he said.

“The experts should announce the results as soon as possible to stop people from feeling embarrassed,” Chao Bun Thong said. “We do not know if the water has toxins or not because we do not have those skills.”

No word on test results
The villagers’ demands have been met with silence, however.

Ministry of Environment officials have repeatedly referred questions on the case to Lonh Hell, the director of the Department of Pollution Control at the ministry, who has refused comment on 10 separate occasions when contacted by the Post.

Sam Sathya, deputy director of the Fisheries Administration, said he was not familiar with the results of the tests. However, he said Kandal province officials would be meeting with representatives from the company, Korean-owned MH Bio-Energy Group, by the end of the month.

“This factory will be fined if the laboratory results find toxins,” Sam Sathya said.

The company, however, insists liquid waste from its factory, which refines dried cassava to produce bio-ethanol fuel, is toxin-free.

Nevertheless, Sar Poev, head of the administration unit at MH Bio-Energy Group, said the company has paid $700,000 to 53 families in Duong and nearby Krous village.

The factory was ordered shut in late August after officials found the facility was producing “bad-smelling liquid and gas waste”.

MH Bio-Energy blamed the spill on a broken water treatment system, which allowed untreated water to escape. The factory was allowed to reopen in mid-September with newly fitted waste storage facilities, even though officials are still at a loss to explain what caused the fish deaths.



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