Seventeen villagers from Svay Rieng’s Koki commune were sent to the provincial hospital yesterday to receive treatment for skin conditions officials said were caused by long exposure to American CS tear gas bombs.
Health Ministry officials have descended on the commune after Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at the US for its Vietnam War era legacy, in particular, 1970s-era tear gas bombs.
Koki commune council member Sar Hun yesterday said the 17 new victims suffered from skin conditions such as rashes.
“They were exposed to the chemical substance when they were herding their cattle and doing farming,” he said.
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The first of the 15 bombs were reported to officials in January, though locals had long known of their whereabouts. Koki Commune Chief Kem Sam Oeun said many villagers were exposed unwittingly and experienced symptoms over the course of years.
“Some people played with it or hit it, so the chemical just spread out and when they go near, they sneezed and choked up, and their eyes also hurt,” she said.
Chemical weapons expert Richard Guthrie said chronic itchiness from tear gas is a “plausible possibility”, but noted there is “little published research on long-term low-level exposures to CS”.
Ke Rotha, head of the provincial Health Department, said the victims may be sent to Phnom Penh, adding that they had “black and white spots on the skin and their skin is itchy”.