A 47-year-old woman died in the Kampot provincial hospital on Monday after drinking sulfuric acid from a plastic bottle at her bedside identical to a nearby bottle containing water.
Police said yesterday they were trying to determine whether Khun Kei, who has a history of mental illness, had done so mistakenly or as an act of suicide.
According to village chief Khem Chheoung, Kei wasn’t feeling well on Sunday night and reached for a bottle of water to wash down medication.
“Her husband came from outside and saw his wife drinking acid, and he rushed to push the bottle out her mouth,” he said.
By then it was too late, and Kei had consumed approximately a quarter of a litre. The acid caused her stomach to expand and induced a bloody bout of vomiting. After going to a nearby clinic and being transferred to the hospital, she died.
The village chief said that the couple had bought acid to refill a motorcycle battery.
Kem Sokhan, deputy police chief of Banteay Meas district, said that he went down to the village and talked to the husband and neighbours, who told him of a woman suffering from an on again, off again mental illness that made her take previous attempts on her own life.
In many cases, sulfuric acid purchased for domestic use ends up turning into a weapon flung at victims of acid attacks in Cambodia.
Theany Phal, the legal manager for the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, said that sulfuric acid is regulated under the law, but provisions in the sub-decree passed on January 31 provide an exception for diluted sulfuric acid with a density below 33 percent, the kind used for refilling batteries.
The sub-decree regulates transportation, sale and storage of acid. Among other rules, all of which take effect in July, sellers of “strong” acid would have to label their wares properly in Khmer, with an accompanying warning label.
Ouk Kimlek, under secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said that battery acid is also covered in the sub decree, but he didn’t cite the article.
An earlier version of this article said sulfuric acid is not regulated. It is only diluted sulfuric acid with a specific low density that is not regulated.
With assistance from Cheang Sokha