More than half of the villagers who fell ill after drinking contaminated water or methanol-laced rice wine in Kratie province’s Chetr Borei district last week have returned home after receiving treatment.
A total of 13 villagers have died and more than 200 were hospitalised in the incident, which began on Thursday and affected two villages in Kantuot commune.
Va Thorn, governor of Kratie province, said yesterday morning that 123 villagers who had fallen ill were better now and were allowed to return home.
He said that provincial authorities used five trucks to transport them home while those still receiving treatment would rest at the hospital for a few more days.
Mr Thorn added that the provincial administration banned villagers from using or drinking water from Prek Ter stream until officials could guarantee its safety.
“Some of them are better and have returned home but they have been informed not to drink rice wine or use water from Prek Ter stream until expert officials can determine it is safe,” he said.
According to a report from the Kratie provincial health department, 237 people have received treatment for poisoning at the provincial hospital and 123 of them have since been allowed to return home, including 49 women and 58 children.
Chhneang Sovatha, director of the provincial health department, said that after being examined, most victims were found to have been poisoned from methanol.
Some victims had symptoms of difficulty breathing and blurred vision before dying, he added.
“They are being treated carefully. Some are better now and have been allowed to return home while others still need more treatment,” he said.
The Health Ministry released the test results yesterday evening, saying that 13 people died from methanol-laced wine and tainted water from Prek Ter stream because of herbicide and pesticide runoff from farms.
“Those who have symptoms of poisoning were poisoned by consuming wine laced with high level of methanol and by drinking water fetched from Prek Ter and O’koki streams contaminated with herbicide and pesticide which ran off into the streams,” the statement said.
The Health Ministry also issued a statement on Monday, saying that its health team suspected the poisoning was caused by rice wine because most the deceased and sick people drank a lot of it, but some cases were caused by using water from Prek Ter stream.
More than 10 of the sick villagers were sent for treatment at Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh.
Cher Ny, 38, one of the villagers receiving treatment at Calmette Hospital, said that on Friday, she drank water which was taken from Prek Ter stream after her husband bought it as usual.
“We do not boil this water. We drank water and then I vomited. We have drunk water from this stream for a long time and it’s always been fine. We don’t know why we got poisoned this time,” she said.
Roth Erng, 40, who has a sick family member at Calmette, said that nearly everyone in his village was poisoned and that villagers were shocked about what happened.
He said the villagers always bought water that was transferred from Prek Ter stream for about $1 per jar.
“We bought water to drink and that water comes from Prek Ter stream. Before the villagers got poisoned, there was the first heavy rain of the season. We are sorry to see our villagers dead and sick,” he said.
Ry Ram, 40, who fell ill but has since seen an improvement in her health, said she will leave the hospital in a few days.
“I am better now. On those days, some villagers drank wine and water and we don’t know what poisoned them,” she said.
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said this was not the first time that people living in Kratie province had been poisoned from methanol-laced rice wine.
“The question is: ‘will they have to live in fear?’ They need to find a reasonable explanation for the people to be content,” he said.
On Monday, the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft issued results from laboratory testing, saying the rice wine had a methanol level of 11.22 percent, way above the maximum allowable level of 0.15 percent.
And the result of testing water from the canal 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.