Health officials are pointing to methanol poisoning after 69 residents of a banana plantation were hospitalized — including children as young as 10 — and three men died, though some officials are also raising suspicions over chemical use.
Kampong Cham’s Stung Trang District Referral Hospital director Yim Navy said the plantation residents began arriving to the hospital last Monday with chest pains, difficulty breathing, dizziness and headaches.
Cases continued to arrive for two or three days, and serious cases were transferred to the provincial level.
Two died on their way to the hospital and another died at the district hospital, Navy said.
“We’ve looked into the wine, and the methanol is so high beyond our standards. But if wine is the reason, what about the children and women who have not drunk it? Why have they experienced the same symptoms? So it is difficult to make a conclusion,” he said. “The kids are as young as 10 years old.”
He knew that the plantation where they worked had sprayed chemicals on October 5, but the wine sample also contained 9% methanol — far above the Health Ministry’s 0.1% limit.
Some people remained hospitalized, he said, adding that there had been 69 hospitalizations in all, 27 of them women.
Prek Kak commune second deputy chief Sam Sarin said the sick residents lived at the Long Sreng banana plantation. Many were workers, and he feared they had been poisoned by chemicals used on the plantation, the Candlelight Party member said.
A woman who picked up the phone for the company said she would get someone to call back. No one did.
Deputy provincial police chief Heng Vuthy said the investigation was confidential.
Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandin said she was busy, and Ly Sovann, another ministry spokesperson, could not be reached.
Stung Trang district police chief Em Vathana told local newspaper Nokor Thom that police suspected chemical sprays could be behind the three deaths.