EARTH Thailand

Seven critical after chemical factory blaze

The Nation 06 May 2012

Some 47 people were injured - seven of them critically - after a fire broke out yesterday at the Bangkok Synthetics factory in Map Ta Phut.

The sky over the Rayong industrial estate was covered with thick black smoke from chemicals burnt during the blaze. Deputy Public Health Minister Dr Surawit Khonsomboon warned people in Rayong not to store rainwater for consumption, as it may be contaminated by toxic chemicals released by the fire. 

Surawit said rain actually helped stop the smoke from spreading but the disadvantage was rainwater might dissolve toxic chemicals, so people should not use rainwater for consumption currently.

The fire took place around 3pm yesterday after people heard three explosions at the factory, located on the I7 road in the estate. The explosions were felt up to three kilometres away and the smell of burnt chemicals also spread. 

Some 60 workers were in the factory at the time of blaze and rescue workers and police rushed to help them out, while firemen from 10 engines battled to prevent the fire spreading to nearby factories and chemical tanks. 

It took four hours until Rayong Governor Seni Jitkasem said the fire was brought under control, at 7pm. But officials continued to spray water to reduce the temperature at the site and the area was sealed off for an official inspection. 

Governor Seni said the fire started from a tank of toluene, which workers were cleaning to prepare for the factory opening on Monday. It was initially suspected that human error caused the fire, but police would seek to find out if this was the cause, he said.

However, Industry Minister MR Pongsvas Svasti said the explosion occurred while the factory was not operating. And it was suspected the fire broke out because of inflammable chemicals still in pipes that maintenance officers may have missed while working. 

Sumetha Wichienphetch, head of the Pollution Control emergency centre at the estate, said the chemical at the factory was toluene, which wasn’t highly toxic and did not cause people to get cancer. He said sunlight and rain should dilute and wash the toluene away, but local officials warned people not to store rainwater for a period. He said the department would inspect the site for any leftover chemical, to restore public confidence that things were safe.