370 workers faint at Cambodian toy, garment factories after nearby farmer sprays pesticides

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – About 370 workers fainted at Cambodian factories in the past two days, possibly because of pesticide spraying on nearby rice fields, officials said Friday.

The workers were employed at seven different factories inside the 7NG Special Economic Zone, 25 kilometres (16 miles) north of the capital, Phnom Penh, said Chiev Bunrith, spokesman of the government’s National Social Security Fund, which oversees workers’ welfare.

Initially, 119 workers fell ill on Thursday at the South Korean-owned PPNP Soya Toy Co., where they reported symptoms of vomiting, dizziness and weakness before fainting, he said.

On Friday, some 250 workers from six other factories that produce toys and clothing in the same complex suffered the same symptoms, he said.

The workers, most of whom were women, were hospitalized for treatment.

Chiev Bunrith said that an initial investigation had traced fumes in the factories to adjacent rice paddies which had been sprayed with pesticides.

The Phnom Penh Post quoted a district deputy police chief, Un Yong, as saying he had instructed the farmer to spray his fields only on Sundays, and to inform authorities in advance.

Earlier this month, one worker died and 18 fainted at a garment factory in eastern Cambodia that has since been closed pending an investigation.

The garment industry is Cambodia’s biggest export earner, employing about 700,000 people in more than 700 garment and shoe factories. In 2014, the Southeast Asian country shipped more than $6 billion worth of products to the United States and Europe.