Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Arsenic deaths stalk Kandal village

Arsenic deaths stalk Kandal village

Arsenic deaths stalk Kandal village

Kandal province
KHUT Ngan Cheur admits that she is afraid of her own skin. Gingerly, as if to prove that she has cause for worry, she displays the gnarled surface of her palms and feet, which are encrusted with yellow and black sores.

Along with about 260 other residents of Preak Russey village, located in Kandal province’s Koh Thom district, the 51-year-old woman is suffering from the prolonged effects of arsenic poisoning, which earlier this year led to the death of her brother and nephew.

Her brother, Khut Chhang, 52, died in February, and the man’s 27-year-old son, Chhang Vorn, died in March, she said. Prior to their deaths, each man had undergone a leg amputation after suffering cancerous lesions and gangrene.

“Before my brother died he was in a lot of pain. There were extremely itchy sores on his palms, legs and torso. He was vomiting blood, suffering from diarrhoea and could not walk or eat,” she said.

According to figures released last month by the Department of Water Supply at the Ministry of Rural Development, about 150,000 people living along the Mekong and Bassac rivers are consuming arsenic-contaminated drinking water for at least part of the year.

Mao Saray, director of the department, said arsenic could lead to cancer of “the lungs, bladder and skin in particular”.

“After prolonged exposure – typically three to 10 years – skin lesions can develop which can lead to gangrene, and in severe cases amputations are necessary,” he said.

Khut Ngan Cheur said she first heard of arsenic poisoning – also known as arsenicosis – in 2006, when wells in her village were tested.

“At first we did not know exactly what the disease was, and we did not care too much because many people in our village have the same illness,” she said. “But we became very frightened when my relatives died.”

Andrew Shantz, laboratory and research director for Resource Development International Cambodia, said that despite progress in the monitoring of arsenic poisoning, there were no accurate estimates about the number of arsenic-related deaths in Cambodia.

“Cancers that result from arsenic exposure and cancers that result from other causes are difficult to distinguish,” he said.

However, he said that the two deaths in Preak Russey were “almost certainly the result of prolonged exposure to arsenic-contaminated groundwater”.

“Arsenicosis patients have been found in at least four villages in Cambodia – Preak Russey being by far the most severely impacted,” he said.

General malnutrition and exposure to parasites put villagers in Preak Russey at an enhanced risk, he said.

Chhorn Sovorn, deputy village chief of Preak Russey village, said that about 80 of the community’s 100 wells were found to contain arsenic levels that were 40 to 50 times the limit considered safe by the World Health Organisation, and eight to 10 times the limit considered safe by the Ministry of Rural Development.

“Before 2006, all the villagers used well water for drinking, bathing and cooking rice, but after the wells were tested and found to be high in arsenic, we stopped using them,” he said.

However, Meuk Nhil, a 54-year-old farmer suffering from arsenicosis, said he still occasionally drew drinking water from his contaminated well.

“I have no money to buy running water like other people. I collect rainwater, but when that runs out, I drink water from my well,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Banteay Meanchey gunfight sees 15 Thais arrested, three officers injured

    The Banteay Meanchey Military Police have arrested 15 Thai suspects and their accomplices after a gun battle between two Thai groups caused injuries to three police officers in the early hours of November 21, local authorities said. National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy said that according to

  • PM: Do not defile Tonle Sap swamp forest or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered police to arrest anyone – including government officials – involved with the deforestation of the flooded forests surrounding the Tonle Sap Lake because it is an area important to the spawning of many species of fish, among other reasons. Speaking in a