MSF is concerned by the contents of the article in the Phnom Penh Post of
November 26, 1999, on the toxic waste. The article describes how the health
situation of the population in Betrang village in Sihanoukville/Kompong Som
seriously deteriorated after MSF withdrew its medical team at the end of
According to the alarming news in the article, by now "14
strong healthy people have died, that should not have died."
must admit that this is not what we had expected to happen, once the waste was
removed. According to information we had received at the time we were treating
the victims, the toxic waste was - mainly - highly contaminated with mercury. At
the end of February 1999, the time of withdrawal of our medical staff, we had
seen quite some improvement in the health of the affected persons and we had
based our general forecast on the known sixty-day half-life of mercury in the
human body. In other words, we thought the health problems would disappear
However, if - as we read - by now 14 strong and healthy
people have died, it strengthens an earlier suspicion that other toxins are
involved as well. This is also mentioned in the excellent May 1999 Human Rights
Report "Toxic Justice."
As it looks, it is recommended to appoint as soon
as possible a highly qualified independent toxicologist to re-investigate the
Unfortunately, MSF does not have highly qualified
toxicologists nor do we have the sophisticated equipment that might be needed
for such an investigation. This kind of work far exceeds our competence.
We keep the medical records of the 1,300 persons who received medical
treatment from us in early 1999 in our archives, and we will be happy to provide
any independent toxicologist with copies of the many thousands of pages of
health data that were collected by our medical team.
medical records can help independent scientists to establish objectively the
deterioration of the health of the victims as a consequence of their contact
with Formosa Plastics' waste. Our sympathy was and still is with the victims of
the toxic waste, who are waiting too long for justice to be
Maurits Van Pelt
Belgium, Switzerland in Cambodia