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Cyanide ‘found in samples’

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Sick villagers are treated for water poisoning at Kratie Provincial Hospital earlier this month. Photo supplied

Cyanide ‘found in samples’

A senior official at the Ministry of Environment said on Thursday analysis of blood samples from victims of Kratie province’s contaminated water incident earlier this month have confirmed the presence of cyanide, albeit at very low levels.

Tin Ponlok, the Ministry of Environment’s secretary-general at the General Secretariat of the National Council for Sustainable Development, told reporters that while he dared not comment about the case as yet, early results showed the level of cyanide “is not at a high level in the samples”.

Ponlok said: “I do not know how much cyanide it takes to harm or kill someone, so now we are waiting for the experts to examine the results.”

He said experts from the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Mines and Energy are working together on a detailed report based on the analysis of the victims’ blood samples in order to submit it to the government for evaluation.

However, despite the low levels, the discovery by the Singapore laboratory of cyanide in the blood samples is in line with a statement made by Minister of Industry and Handicrafts Cham Prasidh last Thursday.

He had said that besides chromium and nitrite, cyanide was found in a water sample taken from the Prek Te and Korki rivers in Kratie’s Chet Borey district. The cyanide, he said, is used in gold mining and poses a serious threat to people’s health and the environment.

Its discovery in the water prompted investigation teams to look into mine shafts located in neighbouring Mondulkiri province, where a Chinese company, Rong Cheng Industrial (Cambodia) Co Ltd, is constructing a gold mine shaft. It is suspected of secretly dumping the waste containing cyanide into the stream.

Speaking via his interpreter, Yin Sok Meng, the deputy director of Rong Cheng, Le Man Gun, denied that his company had anything to do with the contamination. He said it had not yet begun operating the gold mine shaft, and did not import any cyanide.

“At the moment, our company is constructing the site and has not drilled the shaft yet. We have also not imported any cyanide. We are happy to cooperate with the authorities in this case,” Man Gun said.

According to him, a team of officials arrived at the company’s site on Thursday morning to carry out an inspection and take samples.

“The company is not too concerned as we have done nothing wrong and have no cyanide on site either,” he said.

Meanwhile, officials in Kratie’s Chet Borey, who are awaiting the results of the blood tests, have not withdrawn the ban on water consumption from sources in the surrounding area.

Hang Chandy, Chet Borey district governor, said local authorities have suggested that expert institutions monitor the Prek Te and Korki rivers to ascertain if the contamination was continuing. He said if it had declined to a level that would not affect the health of the people, the ban should be lifted so that the villagers can use the water in the stream.

“For now, the authorities are continuing to supply the villagers with clean water. We will increase the construction of wells so the people can use water from them instead of the rivers,” Chandy said.

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