Food Poisoning Blamed For Hundreds of Sick Garment Workers

Hundreds of textile workers were hospitalized late Monday night with suspected food poisoning after eating an end-of-shift meal at a Singaporean garment factory in the Dangkao district of Phnom Penh.

The mass poisoning at the Suntex Pte, Ltd factory that led some 600 workers to seek medical treatment at city hospitals is being investigated by medical and food experts, municipal officials said Tuesday, adding that pesticides may be involved.

There were no fatalities from the poisoning, but more than 100 workers were still receiving medical treatment Tuesday afternoon, said Sok Leakhena, the municipality’s deputy chief of cabinet.

Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara said Tuesday an initial examination of the suspect food pointed to possible pesticide con­tamination.

Hundreds of workers began vomiting and fainting after eating factory-provided food around 2 am Tuesday morning, said Albert Tan, the general manager of the factory, which according to Agence France-Presse makes clothes for major Western brands, including US retailer Gap.

Managers and security guards carried the sick onto trucks and rushed them to five hospitals in Phnom Penh for medical treatment, Tan said.

Tan said the incident is the first of its kind concerning factory-provided food, which is prepared by a private contractor.

“We are still waiting on details to find out what is wrong with the workers….It is regrettable that this happened,” he said.

Kevin Hsieh, manager of Ta Cheng Hospital on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard, where more than 120 of the sick were taken, said Tuesday that food poisoning was the cause of sickness.

While all of the patients are still under observation at the hospital, 20 are seriously ill, Hsieh said.

The Suntex factory is covering all medical costs, Hsieh added.

Veng Thai, director of the mu­nicipal medical department, also said Tuesday the apparent problem was food poisoning.

However, tests are being conducted at the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia to identify the exact cause and a link with pesticides cannot be ruled out, Veng Thai said.

In June, six people died and 69 fell sick in Siem Reap province after eating fish contaminated with pesticides.

Health officials have warned the use of pesticides in Cambodia could be a public-health time bomb as Cambodian farmers increasingly use chemical fertilizers on their crops. A number of pesticides readily available in Cambodia have been banned in other countries around the world, experts said.

Interviewed in the emergency ward at Ta Cheng Hospital, garment worker Kam Phoeun, 25, said she became ill and fainted just 15 minutes after eating fish and vegetable soup in the factory.

“Pain started in my stomach and I vomited. The vomiting caused my throat to swell and I couldn’t breath. The next thing I remember is waking up here in hospital,” Kam Phoeun said.

Her sister, worker Tra Srey Pich, 28, was one of around 20 workers who did not eat the shift meal Monday night.

“I had good luck. I did not eat the food because it was not as it normally is. It did not smell good and was cold,” she said. “But my sister ate it and now she’s here in hospital with an [intravenous] drip in her arm.”

Tra Srey Pich praised the factory’s management for their prompt work in bringing the sick to hospital. She also said she has no other complaints about working conditions there.

“The boss is…very good. We never have to demonstrate at the factory because all the workers get a high salary,” Tra Srey Pich said.


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