6 June 2024

Thailand’s health authority is warning members of the public about the dangers of toxic fumes following chemical blazes in Rayong and Ayutthaya in recent weeks.

Dr Attapon Kaewsamrit, deputy director-general of the Public Health Ministry’s Department of Health, advised people to stay upwind from the source in a ventilated space at least 300 meters away if a chemical fire breaks out near their community.

“You should wear a mask that can help protect against toxic fumes,” the doctor said, announcing an investigation following an inspection by the Department of Health’s SEhRT team from Saraburi Public Health Center and a health team from Ayutthaya.

The advice came after a blaze at a chemical warehouse on May 1 in Ayutthaya’s Phachi District which affected residents of several communities in the district, neighboring districts and patients at a nearby hospital.

Dr. Attapon explained that the fire may produce irritating toxic gases. Vapors may induce dizziness and asphyxiation. Inhalation or contact with material may irritate or burn skin and eyes. Importantly, runoff from fire control can cause environmental pollution, by contaminating the soil, nearby surface waters and groundwater, which can in turn pollute local drinking water sources.

“If you are instructed by authority to evacuate, immediately follow the advice for your own safety. For a small fire, you may stay indoors with your doors and windows closed to protect yourselves from dangerous fumes,” the doctor said.

On May 2, the SEhRT team from Saraburi Public Health Center was sent to Ayutthaya’s Phachi district to evaluate the health risks to residents living nearby, local sanitation and public hygiene as well as environmental health after the fire was brought under control.

An emergency evacuation center at Wat Khok Muang and a field hospital were set up to help the affected residents and patients.

The findings show that fire crews on duty and residents of Phachi, Kok Muang and Nong Nam Sai districts were affected by chemical fumes and foul odor. They had eye irritation, difficulty breathing and dizziness.

Dr. Attapon said 28 residents who were exposed to the toxic fumes received medical services from public health personnel stationed at the field hospital, with 26 of them staying at the evacuation unit for observation and the rest returning home once declared safe.

The doctor said he ordered the local health team to follow up on health risks to residents living one kilometer away from the fire source for any possible delayed effects.

An air quality check by the Pollution Control Department found the presence of acrylonitrile, phosphine, phosgene, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide at slightly higher than normal levels in the air within a 2.3 to 9.5 kilometers radius of the affected communities, according to the report.

The chemicals found in the plumes of smoke are dangerous and can affect people’s health, the doctor noted.

“The health personnel team also educated residents about potential hazards and how to protect themselves against chemical fumes released from a fire,” he said.

The report also indicated that the quality of drinking and consumption water in the affected villages and the evacuation unit was within safety norms.

Dr. Attapon has urged local state agencies and relevant units responsible for granting a permit for operations of chemical warehouses to intensify their efforts to ensure that operators and owners of warehouses, buildings and facilities regularly inspect and maintain all of their operations systems, power systems, equipment, and gas pipelines to prevent accidents and leaks.

“It’s important that warehouses and facilities are regularly inspected so that the problems can be identified before they blow up and cause damage. And any leaks, cracks and breaks should be immediately handled,” Dr. Attorn said.

The doctor also urged local authorities to closely govern, control and follow up operations of chemical operators and ensure that residents are well informed as quickly as possible when there is a fire, a leak or an explosion to help reduce public health risks.

Concerns arise over chemical blazes and transportation

Toxic fumes released from chemical and industrial waste blazes have sparked public health and safety concerns as Thailand has faced a series of hazardous chemical incidents that have exposed people to dangerous toxins through fires, explosions and transportation in April and May.

The most recent incident occurred on Thursday (May 9) when a massive explosion at the pyrolysis gasoline tank of Map Ta Phut Tank Terminal Co., Ltd (MTT) in Rayong caused a devastating fire that left one dead and four others injured.

The explosion and the black smoke billowing over the storage tank prompted authorities to evacuate workers of nearby factories and residents of nearby communities from the vicinity of the fire to ensure their safety. A team of firefighters was deployed to respond to the emergency. It took around nine hours for the blaze to be brought under control.

In response to the incident, the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand has ordered the temporary suspension of operations at the MTT, pending further investigation and damage evaluation, according to news report.

As stated earlier, the Phachi district fire occurred on May Day, when an illegal chemical warehouse storing more than 4,000 tons of toxic chemical and industrial waste caught fire.

On April 30, meanwhile, the authorities ordered an immediate suspension of all cadmium waste shipments after a safety breach during the unloading of a truck at a depot in Tak to ensure safety for workers and nearby residents.

A tractor crane’s chain apparently broke while it was moving a huge bag of cadmium tailings from a big truck to a smaller vehicle at the warehouse of Bound & Beyond in Tak’s Muang District.

The plan was for the toxic waste to be buried at a permanent dump site owned by the company in the province, after it was brought up to standard.

The huge bag containing cadmium tailings was part of about 13,000 tons of toxic waste discovered by authorities at several factories in Bangkok, Chon Buri and Samut Sakhon. The waste had been illegally moved from a landfill in Tak.

Cadmium is a heavy metal used in the manufacture of batteries, paints and plastics among others. Exposure to the substance in certain amounts over time can affect the kidneys, lungs and bones, experts say.

On April 22, a chemical warehouse owned by Win Process Co in the Bang But area of Rayong’s Bang Khai District went up in flames. The blaze led to a series of explosions that prompted the evacuation of nearby residents.

An air quality check by authorities following a second blaze that erupted on April 24 found there were high levels of dangerous chemicals in the air over the surrounding area, according to news report.

By Thai PBS World Feature Desk