A day after 136 students collapsed at a Kompong Cham high school while standing at attention as punishment for not showing deference to the national flag, the local police chief offered a unique explanation for the mass fainting – trees.
“According to the hospital’s analysis, the reason why the students fainted is [because of] the huge tree in the school compound and the farmland surrounding the school, which absorbed the oxygen,” said Heng Meng, police chief of Chamkar Leu district, adding that the punishment could not be blamed as one of the teachers “also [had difficulty breathing] and felt dizzy”.
Heng Phal Rith, school director of Bosknor high school in Chamkar Leu district, also cited the hospital’s report in blaming the incident on a lack of oxygen, adding that he “did not punish the students. It is just a rumour”.
A doctor from the local hospital, Iv Then, said that based on his examination, the lack of oxygen was due to an abundance of trees, which trapped the oxygen, adding that the first four or five students fainted because they were standing under the school’s large medicinal oil tree.
World Health Organization representative Dr Pieter van Maaren said that while he was not a biologist by trade, the explanation admittedly sounded a bit odd.
“Dating back to my own biology classes, green plants and trees actually produce oxygen rather than capture it, so I’m a bit puzzled by [the explanation],” he said, adding that if they had said that the trees were producing a certain smell that affected the students’ composure, it might be more plausible.
Chamkar Leu District governor Ith Dara said he does not have any plans to charge the school director, because the incident was caused by nature.