Toxic substances including chromium and cyanide used to flush gold mines were improperly handled and seeped into a river, sickening hundreds and killing more than a dozen people in two northeastern Cambodian provinces, the country’s industry minister said on Thursday.
Minister of Industry and Handicraft Cham Prasidh told Cambodian media that the government will take action against mining outfits responsible for allowing toxic mining chemicals to seep into the water supplies of Kratie and Mondulkiri provinces.
Experts from the ministry examined the water in the river of Prek Te in Kratie and found chromium and cyanide. The substances were found at various mining sites between Kratie and neighboring Mondulkiri and the ministry believed that they were improperly handled and that rain washed them into the river.
Cham Prasidh repeated an earlier assertion, offered by officials in early May after over 200 residents of two villages in Kratie province’s Cheth Borey district were sickened, with 18 later dying, that some deaths were the result of the consumption of homemade wine. The minister did not give a breakdown of deaths caused by toxic mine substances or homemade wine.
Cambodia’s minister of health put the total number of deaths in Kratie at 14, while local villagers and authorities say 18 people died.
Shortly after the Kratie deaths were reported 80 indigenous ethnic Phnorng residents of four villages in Mondulkiri province fell ill after drinking contaminated water from a stream that had long been the source of drinking water for the area.
Prap Chuob, a Phnorng resident of Chak Char village, said that villagers are now afraid to use the stream for drinking water. The contamination was caused by a Chinese mining company that had been drilling upstream near the water source, he told RFA’s Khmer Service on Tuesday.
In late 2017, after Chinese mining firms began to operate in the region, he said, six cattle died as the result of suspected water contamination.
U.S.-based advocacy group Water.org found that around four million Cambodians lack access to clean water, while some six million others lack access to proper sanitation and hygiene. Among those who face a shortage of clean water, the group said, some 80 percent live in rural areas of the country.