Status of Waste Still Unclear as Sickness Reports Persist

sey village, Sihanoukville – Sam Sopheap says almost everyone living in this logging mill village downhill from a suspected toxic waste dump experienced diarrhea, dizziness, vomiting and headaches soon after the rubble was unloaded.

“My neighbors and I scavenged for the bags over there with our hands because we did not know the danger,” the 27-year-old mother of three said this week, pointing to the dump. She added that she and others used and drank water from a small pond nearby until NGOs told them of the possible health risks and gave them medicine to make them feel better.

If there have been any adverse physical effects from the recent dumping of mercury-tainted in­dustrial waste near Sihanoukville, this village of about 30 families is one of the most likely places for them to be found.

But it is too early to jump to conclusions, especially without knowing the toxicity of the 20-year-old mercury-tainted waste, Dr Georg Peterson, country representative of the World Health Organization, said Thursday.  Still, he said, some symptoms such as vomiting could fit the description of acute poisoning.

Government health officials weren’t immediately available for comment.

There have been reports of several port workers who became ill, and the death of one port worker has been confirmed.

Government health officials are taking the reports seriously. They already have visited the area, and a team that includes a Japanese expert on toxic waste is to tour the area again today.

Minister of Environment Mok Mareth said Wednesday that initial laboratory tests showed traces of mercury but that more conclusive results would not be ready for a few days.

NGOs including Legal Aid of Cambodia also are taking the health claims seriously and were visiting Sey Village on Thursday for the second time in less than a week.

Before the arrival of the waste, the pond water was clear. Last week the water was yellow, Michelle Brandt, a spokeswoman for Legal Aid, said Wednes­day. “Many drank and bathed there and about 70 percent reported having diarrhea, head­aches, dizziness.”

Area residents also took the stones and dirt from the dump to use as build­ing materials.

Sixty-year-old Pham Nguon said his children had brought back some of the rubble to patch a hole near his fence. Later, when he found out about the possible health risks, he said he removed the materials and dumped them along the road.

Now, he is very angry, he said. “This is the big corruption of the government. Since the waste was dumped, my family has been feeling very sick.”

Sam Sopheap also said she is angry, and on Tuesday was moving her family to another village. Most of her neighbors already had fled.

“I don’t know why the state allowed the import of the poisonous waste into the area,” she said.

“Maybe there is corruption in the government.”

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