Thai factory fire reignites as health fears grow over chemicals | Environment News

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Chemicals from a factory just outside the Thai capital briefly caught fire on Tuesday, sending another cloud of toxic black smoke into the air and underlining the lingering health hazard of an industrial accident that has killed one and wounded dozens.

It took more than 24 hours for firefighters to extinguish the fire after it started with an explosion around 3 a.m. on Monday, which could be heard for miles and blew up the windows and doors of neighboring houses.

Despite efforts by firefighters to keep the highly flammable chemical styrene monomer from reigniting by continuing to spray the site with water and moss, the flames erupted again and burned for about an hour on Tuesday afternoon.

Little was left of the Ming Dih Chemical Plant except the twisted metal frames and charred remains of its warehouses which were destroyed in the explosion and fire.

More than 60 people were injured in the disaster, including a dozen rescuers, and more than 30 of them were hospitalized. A man, identified as an 18-year-old volunteer firefighter, was killed in the blaze.

Tony Cheng of Al Jazeera, reporting from Bangkok, said the fire department said the blaze was under control and nearly extinguished “much earlier this morning”, but that it caught fire again.

“We were again seeing huge clouds of black smoke with chemicals in the plastic factory catching fire,” Cheng said. Some 200 people in the area were again “quickly moved,” he said, adding that they feared returning home.

Although the fire department has said the blaze is back under control, dangers remain, particularly that it is raining in the area, which could reignite the blaze by reacting with the chemicals, Cheng said. .

Police questioned the plant manager as part of their investigation into the cause of the explosion, who told them that he and eight staff members had been awakened from their sleep at the site by a strong chemical odor and fled just before the blast, district chief Chumpol Poompuang said. police commander.

Authorities ordered the evacuation of a 5 km (3 mile) area around the foam and plastic pellet manufacturing plant – near Bangkok’s main airport – as the plant burned down, saying residents to avoid inhaling the fumes and warning them that they could cause dizziness and vomiting, and cancer in the long term.

Health problems

On Tuesday, Attapol Charoenchansa, who heads the country’s pollution control department, said teams were testing the air and water quality in the plant area and considering reducing the evacuation area. to allow some residents to return home.

He warned, however, that the rain that started to fall on Tuesday afternoon could carry the chemicals into the water sources, which would be difficult to control.

Parliamentarians from ASEAN for Human Rights, a regional human rights group, urged the Thai government to provide the public with more information on the chemicals that had been released, along with all of its findings on possible contamination.

He also pointed out that firefighters and others working at the scene, many of whom were only wearing masks required by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – or not at all – as they battled the blaze, had to be equipped with better protection. material during cleaning.

“Now is the time to understand what the impacts of the fire and explosion could be and to ensure that everyone who still operates nearby is properly protected,” said Sarah Elago, group member and Filipino lawmaker. .

“Seeing firefighters in surgical masks battling potentially carcinogenic chemicals was an excruciating sight. The government should urgently provide adequate equipment to all those still at risk, ”she said.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered authorities to gather as much information as possible on the contamination of the city’s soil, groundwater, drinking water and air in order to “mitigate the impact on short and long term health “.

“Although the fire is under control, our work is not yet finished,” he said in a statement posted on Facebook.

Authorities said shockwaves from the initial blast damaged around 100 homes and 15 cars.

It was not clear how much monetary damage the fire caused to the plant.

Styrene monomer is used in the production of disposable foam plates, cups and other products, and can produce toxic fumes when ignited.

The chemical itself also emits styrene gas, a neurotoxin, which can immobilize people within minutes of inhalation and can be fatal in high concentrations. Last year in the Indian city of Visakhapatnam, a styrene gas leak from a chemical plant killed 12 people and sickened more than 1,000.

The area around the factory is a mix of old industrial complexes and new residential developments that were built after the airport opened in 2006.

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