CAMBODIA CLOSES FACTORY AFTER 100 WORKERS POISONED

2004-02-13
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PHNOM PENH-Cambodian authorities have ordered the closure of a Chinese-invested clothing factory in Kampong Speu Province after 90 of its workers fell ill following contact with a hazardous chemical used in the manufacturing process, RFA�s Khmer service reports.

�The factory used �Solven Rustgo,� which contains a substance called trichloroethylene to make the clothes clean and fresh,� one Cambodian health official said. �There was no way for air to come in and out, and the vapor just floated around the factory floor. More than 90 women workers fainted in the workplace.�

The Sa Try Na Factory was ordered to close for three days so that the workers could rest and recover, according to the Cambodian Ministry of Social Affairs.

�The Health Ministry has demanded that the factory owner improve the ventilation system, electrical wiring, and improve the working environment before they can continue their operations,� the head of the ministry�s health department, Huoy Heang Song, said.

According to guidelines published by the International Labor Organization (ILO), trichloroethylene in the short term irritates the eyes and skin and affects the central nervous system, to the extent that it may cause loss of consciousness. Long-term effects from prolonged and repeated exposure to the chemical can cause dermatitis, memory loss, liver and kidney problems, and even cancer, according to the ILO guidelines.

The workers at the factory began to fall sick on Feb 3., with the government ordering the factory�s closure on Feb. 4.

The workers who feel ill were taken to the Calmeter hospital. �The workers got sick and very weak because of low blood sugar levels because they had been poisoned,� hospital director Heng Tai Kry said in an interview. �They are getting better now, and some have returned to work after we injected them with an antiserum.�

Officials blamed the workers� illness on excessively long shifts, which frequently exceeded the legal daily maximum by 3-4 hours. They said they were planning legal action against two other factories that refused to allow a government inspection team to visit.

�Factory owners frequently exploit poor workers. They build factories with no thought of health problems,� Som Saneang, secretary general of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

He said an estimated 250,000 garment workers in Cambodia were paid an average wage of U.S. $40 per month. Cambodia relies heavily on export income from the garment sector. #####

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