Government officials yesterday confirmed that 14 villagers have died in Kratie province’s Chetr Borei district since last week, from what appears to be a combination of factors including tainted water and methanol-laced rice wine.
The death toll of villagers who have died from the contaminated water or rice wine rose from 11 to 14 yesterday, while more than 200 people have been hospitalised, officials said.
Or Vandin, spokesman for the Health Ministry, said yesterday that the incident in Chetr Borei district’s Kantuot commune occurred because the villagers had consumed rice wine with a high methanol content.
“The poisoning in Kratie province occurred because our people bought rice wine that wasn’t produced according to standards. When we knew this, the Minister of Health ordered health officials to go down to the villages and investigate,” she said.
Ms Vandin said that they took samples of both the rice wine and the water the villagers used to test at a laboratory.
“Today, we got the result from the sample of rice wine, which had a lot of methanol and caused the drinkers to get poisoned,” she said, adding that the contaminated rice wine was to blame for all of the deaths and serious illnesses.
The Ministry of Industry and Handicraft issued results yesterday, saying the rice wine had a methanol level of 11.22 percent, way above the maximum allowable level of 0.15 percent.
It said that the results of testing canal water showed a chromium level of 173 micrograms per litre while the maximum allowable level is just 50 micrograms per litre. The water also had a nitrate level from 7-23 milligrams per litre, with the maximum allowable level being just 3 milligrams per litre.
Phon Phea, Kantuot commune police chief, said yesterday that 14 villagers have died and 214 people have received medical treatment at the provincial hospital.
“This morning, we sent about 30 more people to the hospital. We are staying in the villages to keep an eye on them and we have banned them from drinking and using water taken from the Prek Ter canal or from taking a bath in it,” Mr Phea said.
He said authorities ordered all villagers to pour out water that had been fetched from the canal and stored in water jars and instead use clean water distributed to them by authorities.
“The fire trucks bring clean water to distribute to our villagers every day,” Mr Phea said, adding that some of the victims were poisoned from rice wine while others had been poisoned from contaminated water.
The Ministry of Health issued a statement yesterday, saying that its health team suspected the poisoning was caused by rice wine because most of the deceased and sick people drank a lot of it, but some cases were caused by using water from the Prek Ter canal.
“The working group continues to follow up and investigate to find the real reason that is causing health problems and death,” it said, adding the deceased were aged between 24 and 73 years old.
“The result of the National Laboratory after testing rice wine shows that the wine villagers drank contains a high level of methanol, which poisons the consumer. The result from testing the water will be released tomorrow,” the statement added.
Health Minister Mam Bun Heng appealed to everyone in Kratie province and across the country to pay attention to their lives by drinking clean water, consuming hygienic food, and not drinking methanol-laced rice wine.