Thailand chemical factory fire out; health concerns remain

BANGKOK (AP). Firefighters put out a blaze at a Thai chemical plant outside Bangkok on Tuesday morning, 24 hours after an explosion caused damage to nearby houses and then emitted toxic smoke that prompted widespread evacuation.The Ming Dih Chemical factory was destroyed by the fire and explosion that broke out on Monday morning at 3:00 a.m.Over 60 people were hurt in the disaster. This included a dozen emergency workers. More than 30 were also hospitalized. The fire claimed the life of an 18-year old volunteer firefighter.Although the fire was extinguished by Wednesday morning at 3:40 a.m., firefighters kept spraying water and foam on the area to keep the highly flammable chemical styrene monmer from reigniting. Investigators are still investigating the cause of this disaster.Authorities evacuated a 5-kilometer (3-mile) area surrounding the foam and pellet manufacturing plant, which is near Bangkok's main international airport. They warned residents that inhaling the fumes could cause dizziness, vomiting, and even cancer.Attapol Charoenchansa (head of the country's pollution control department) stated that teams were currently testing the air quality in the factory area and considering narrowing evacuation zones to allow residents to return home.However, he cautioned that the rain could make the chemicals more likely to get into the water supply, making it difficult to control.Prayuth Chanocha, Prime Minister, stated that he had directed authorities to collect as much information possible about the extent of contamination to soil and ground water in order to minimize the impact on health over the long and short term.Continue the storyHe stated that although the fire is under control now, we have not completed our work yet, in a Facebook statement.Officials said that in addition to the deaths, the shockwaves created by the initial explosion also caused damage to approximately 100 homes and 15 cars.Styrene monomer, which is used to produce disposable foam plates, cups, and other products can cause poisonous fumes if ignited.Styrene gas can also be released from the chemical, which is a neurotoxin. It can be fatal in high concentrations and can immobilize people within minutes. A leakage of styrene from a chemical plant in India killed 12 people last year and left more than 1000 others ill.The area surrounding the factory contains both older industrial complexes as well as newer housing developments, which were constructed after 2006's opening of the airport.___Chalida Ekvittayavechnukul, an Associated Press journalist, contributed to this report.