EARTH Thailand

Laem Chabang Port: Surrounding area declared disaster-hit zone

The Nation 27 November 2009

Leakage claims one life as families evacuated; mobile medical unit dispatched to neighbouring community as 191 locals queue up for treatment for exposure.

Laem Chabang Port and neighbouring areas have now been declared disaster zones after the leakage of sodium persulfate chemical. Dozens of people have already been admitted into hospital and more than 200 families have been forced to evacuate the area. 

"We issued this declaration to control the situation and facilitate assistance," Chon Buri Governor Seni Jittakasem said yesterday.

The chemical, which severely irritates the skin, eyes and respiratory system, leaked from a container at the Laem Chabang Port at around 3pm on Wednesday. At least 41 people, including port officials, were in hospital with symptoms like nausea and chest pains after exposure to the chemical. 

As of yesterday evening, the disฌaster had already claimed one life - 65yearold Sunee Phupetch died at the Ao Udom Hospital. Officials are conducting an autopsy on her body, and the results should be released in the next two days. The woman, who lived near the port, was said to have had some underlying medical condiฌtions and was taken to hospital when she started vomiting. 

A mobile medical unit was also dispatched to the Laem Chabang community yesterday to monitor conditions.

Some 191 local residents immediately queued up for a checkup, with 110 complaining of eye irritation and sore throat. They were all prescribed medication and sent home. 

Later yesterday, at a press conference, Laem Chabang Port director Chalermkiat Salakkham sought to calm public fears about the leakage.

"Everything is under control now," he said. "Tests on air and water quality confirm that the port is now safe." 

Korbchai Boonrana, the head of disaster prevention and mitigation at the Laem Chabang Industrial Estate, also insisted that the leakage would not cause serious damage. 

"But of course, it has caused panic," he said. 

At dawn yesterday, more than 200 families living near the Laem Chabang Port were evacuated after they smelled a chemical odour and started feeling nauseous. 

Later the same day, 11 students and two teachers at the Laem Chabang School of Engineering were also sent to a local hospital. More hospitalisations were reported. 

Disease Control Department deputy director general Dr Praphon Tangsrikiatkul explained that people could avoid symptoms from getting severe by taking immediate action.

"Wash the affected skin with a lot of water. If clothes are tainted, remove them immediately," Praphon said. "If the eyes are affected, wash them right away with clean water and rush to see the doctor." 

As of press time, just a handful of those exposed to the chemical were still in hospital. 

Authorities confirmed that the death of Nares Kaewruen, an employee of Laem Chabang Khakhongkao Company, was not related to the chemical leakage. They said he had died of epilepsy.

Meanwhile, Port Authority of Thailand acting director Sunida Sakulrattana tried to explain that the leakage had been caused by an accident. 

However, Labour Protection and Welfare Department director general Amporn Nitisiri said the department would conduct an investigation to see if any company should be held responsible. 

"If yes, we will take action," Amporn promised.