Fire at a chemical plant in Thailand; health problems remain

BANGKOK (AP) – Firefighters finally put out a blaze at a chemical plant just outside the Thai capital early Tuesday, more than 24 hours after it started with an explosion that damaged nearby homes and then spread let out a cloud of toxic smoke which caused a widespread evacuation.

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, which erupted around 3 a.m. Monday.

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.

Even though the fire was fully extinguished at 3:40 a.m. on Tuesday, firefighters continued to spray the site with water and foam to prevent the highly flammable chemical styrene monomer from reigniting. The cause of the disaster was still under investigation.

Authorities ordered that an area of ​​5 kilometers (3 miles) around the foam and plastic pellet manufacturing plant near Bangkok’s main airport be evacuated as the plant burned down, telling the residents to avoid inhaling the fumes and warning that if inhaled it could cause dizziness and vomiting and long-term cancer.

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 if the forecast rain did come, it could carry the chemicals into the water sources, which would be difficult to control.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said he had ordered authorities to collect as much information as possible on the extent of the contamination of the soil, groundwater, drinking water and air in the area. city ​​in order to “mitigate the impact on health in the short and long term.”

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

In addition to the casualties, officials said shockwaves from the initial blast also damaged around 100 homes and 15 cars.

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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Associated Press writer Chalida Ekvittayavechnukul contributed to this report.

David Rising, The Associated Press


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