Thailand chemical factory fire out; health concerns remain

BANGKOK (AP) — Firefighters finally extinguished a blaze at a chemical factory just outside the Thai capital early Tuesday, more than 24-hours after it started with an explosion that damaged nearby homes and then let off a clouds of toxic smoke that prompted a widespread evacuation.

Little was left of the Ming Dih Chemical factory other than the twisted metal frames and charred remains of its warehouses that were destroyed in the explosion and fire, which broke out at about 3 a.m. Monday.

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

Even though fire was entirely put out by 3:40 a.m. Tuesday, firefighters continued to douse water and foam over the site to prevent the highly inflammable chemical styrene monomer from reigniting. The cause of the disaster was still under investigation.

Authorities ordered a 5 kilometer (3 mile) area around the foam and plastic pellet manufacturing factory, near Bangkok’s main airport, evacuated as the factory burned, telling residents to avoid inhaling any fumes and warning that if breathed in it could cause dizziness and vomiting, and cancer in the long term.

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

He cautioned, however, that if the forecast rain comes, it could wash the chemicals into water sources, which would be difficult to control.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said he had ordered authorities to gather as much information as possible on the extent of contamination to soil, ground water, the city’s drinking water and air so as to “mitigate the health impact in both the short and long term.”

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

In addition to the casualties, officials said shockwaves from the initial explosion also damaged about 100 houses and 15 cars.

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

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

The area around the factory is a mixture of older industrial complexes and newer housing developments that were built after the opening of the airport in 2006.


Associated Press writer Chalida Ekvittayavechnukul contributed to this report.

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