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Factory waste sickens villagers

Factory waste sickens villagers

CHEMICAL sludge from garment factories has been dumped by municipal authorities in

a village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh causing widespread illnesses, particularly

among children and the elderly.

The first truckload of the dark-blue, foul-smelling sludge was dumped in a paddy

field at Toul Sambour village, Dankau district, a week before Khmer New Year. The

shipments have continued since then with the record being 12 trucks on one day according

to one of the truck drivers spoken to by the Post.

The dumping was done by Autonomous Sewerage Excise - an organization owned by the

municipality but also available for private contracts.

Human rights group Licadho sent a medical team to assist the villagers and is now

trying to establish what the waste is and how dangerous it is.

Heng Narith, Director of the Pollution Control Department of the Ministry of Environment

said they were checking the sludge but the results were not available yet.

Since then villagers have reported numerous ailments, including diarrhea, vomiting

and severe headaches, high temperatures and coughing. Villager Sourn San, 57, said

it was the odor which was the worst aspect of the dumping.

"When I smell this waste I feel dizzy and start to throw up and have diarrhea,"

she said, while being treated with an intravenous drip. She also complained of exhaustion.

She said she has been sick for five days and added that her granddaughter, who had

been well till now, had suddenly gone down with the same symptoms.

Meanwhile villagers have not accepted the dumpings without question. They seized

one truck when it dumped its load and are refusing to return it to the company.

Seng Sophan, 38, one of the people involved in the seizure, said that his entire

family were ill except for him and they had already spent $200 for treatment but

seemed to be no better.

Another villager, Eng Sopheap, said that the community was not too concerned about

the dumpings initially. He said it was only when they and their children started

getting ill that they realized how dangerous it was.

Sopheap said his house was about 100 meters from the dumping and his three children

were sick, as were his nephews and nieces living nearby.

Meanwhile even those involved in the dumping have their suspicions about the seriousness

of the waste.

Bun Mon, 45, a truck driver for the company, wondered if the waste was not dangerous

why was it not disposed of in an official place.

"I am sure most of the waste from factories is poisonous; this waste is not

allowed to be dumped at the rubbish dumping site nor in the sewerage pipe,"

he said.

Bun Mon was suspended from his job because he was accused of encouraging villagers

to complain.

He said up to 12 truckloads a day, three days a week had been dumped in the area.

He said the company charged garment factories $40 to $50 a load to dispose of the

waste.

Ouch Van, chief of Autonomous Sewerage Excise, said his organization was set up a

month ago.

He said they had not managed to secure a permanent dumping site, therefore he came

to an agreement with the Municipal Public Works Department to dump the waste temporarily

at the village till they had made more permanent arrangements.

He disputed the danger.

"I am not clear that this is chemical waste," he said. "I know this

waste is from washing factories."

He added that in factories workers touch the chemicals directly and are not affected.

However, he has promised village representatives who met him on Wednesday, April

26, that they would cease dumping waste in their village.

He said they have agreed with the Ministry of Environment to use in future their

site near Kouk Banchon pagoda about 700 metres off Veng Sreng road.

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