Cambodia: Toxic substance from mine responsible for poisoning of hundreds

Gold mine found to be seeping toxic substances into the drinking water of villagers in Cambodia. Source: Tsepova Ekaterina/Shutterstock

THE mystery of how hundreds of Cambodians were poisoned has been solved, the country’s industry minister said on Thursday after it was found a goldmine in northeastern provinces has been releasing toxic substances into a local river.

Residents of Kratie and Mondulkiri provinces have been fed conflicting reports by the government over the last week as to how more than 200 inhabitants were hospitalised and 14 people killed. After a number of inaccurate reports, they were beginning to lose faith of ever getting an answer.

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According to Radio Free Asia, the government first blamed water tainted with pesticides and then methanol-laced rice wine for the tragedy.

Minister of Industry and Handicraft Cham Prasidh said that experts from the ministry examined the water in the river of Prek Te in Kratie and found chromium and cyanide. The substances were found at various mining sites between Kratie and neighboring Mondulkiri and the ministry believed that they were improperly handled and that rain washed them into the river.

People searching gold on Tonle Sap river. Source: meunierd/Shutterstock

The ministry added that the stream water had a chromium level of 173 micrograms per litre, while the maximum allowable level is just 50 micrograms per litre.

The water also had a nitrate level from seven to 23 milligrams per litre, while the maximum allowable level is just three milligrams per litre.

Just a week earlier, villagers were told that officials from the provincial mines and energy department visited the area and determined that gold mining had no role to play in the tragedy. They reiterated their story that methanol-laced rice wine was to blame for the spate of illness.

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Shortly after the Kratie deaths were reported 80 indigenous ethnic Phnorng residents of four villages in Mondulkiri province fell ill after drinking contaminated water from a stream that had long been the source of drinking water for the area.

According to The Khmer Times, a doctor from one of the local hospitals said those seeking medical attention complained of feeling dizzy and had difficulty breathing.

Cham Prasidh said the government will take action against mining outfits responsible for the pollutants.

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Tags: CambodiaEnvironmentPollution