Dow chemical’s chlorpyrifos pesticide found in Chiang Mai tourist death hotel

An investigation conducted by New Zealand’s 60 Minutes current affairs program titled To Die For has found high levels of the pesticide chlorpyrifos in The Downtown Inn, the Chiang Mai hotel linked to the deaths of at least seven tourists earlier this year (see: Lost smiles in LOS as Thailand travel tragedies website goes live).

60 Minutes reporter Sarah Hall traveled to Chiang Mai and stayed at The Downtown Inn in the Night Bazaar section of the city and took swab samples from the hotel back to New Zealand for analysis, with further tests conducted in Italy.

First produced in 1965 by Dow Chemical Company, chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate, is a popular ingredient in flea collars and shampoo for dogs, and is also used in the manufacture of cockroach pesticides, termite treatment, and used widely in agricultural to keep large areas pest and insect free.

Effective as a pesticide, chlorpyrifos is readily absorbed into the skin by touch, or from inhaling contaminated air. Tests in the past have found high levels of chlorpyrifos remain in the air up to 24-hours after delivery, while a 1996 study found that chlorpyrifos resulted in birth defects in humans, particularly affecting the heart, palate, brain, and nerves.

Dow Chemical’s concealed 294 reports of chlorpyrifos death

Chlorpyrifos – Outlawed in homes and gardens, the pesticide is still sprayed on food crops and is now blamed for the deaths of seven tourists in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chlorpyrifos – Outlawed in homes and gardens, the pesticide is still sprayed on food crops and is now blamed for the deaths of seven tourists in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo: Courtesy CSN Deuschland

The dangers of chlorpyrifos did not become apparent until the mid-1990s and at the time it was found Dow were in possession of 249 reports of chlorpyrifos poisoning that they had failed to forward to the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), despite being honor bound to do so.

Dow was subsequently fined $US732,000 for not submitting the reports, was ordered to remove the “safe” description from its chlorpyrifos product Dursban, and were ordered to pay an additional $2 million penalty.

In 2001, ahead of looming regulatory action by the USEPA, Dow in the US withdraw registration of chlorpyrifos for use in residences and places where children could be exposed, and also restricted its use on crops.

However, the agreement reached with the USEPA only applies to the US market and Dow still actively sells chlorpyrifos internationally, particularly in developing countries such as India, where the it is labeled safe for humans and animals – a blatant lie by the company.

Chlorpyrifos is easily ingested by the body

Dow Chemical, fined $2 million for failing to disclose 249 reports of chlorpyrifos poisoning, the same chemical now blamed for the deaths of seven tourists at the Downtown Inn, Chiang Mai

Dow Chemical, fined $2 million for failing to disclose 249 reports of chlorpyrifos poisoning, the same chemical now blamed for the deaths of seven tourists at the Downtown Inn, Chiang Mai . Photo: Courtesy Dow Chemical

Categorized a neurotoxin, chlorpyrifos is easily ingested by the body through touch or breathing, with ingestion causing a disruption in the transmission of nerve impulses resulting in dizziness, headaches, loose motions, increased urination and salivation. When the ingestion is excessive, it could lead to paralysis, convulsions and even death.

While quickly absorbed by the body, chlorpyrifos only has a half-life of one day, explaining why forensic doctors in Thailand, along with other international agencies, have not have been able to detect it in tissue samples and postmortem examinations conducted on the seven dead tourists.

It would also lay to rest accusations of a cover up made by the family of New Zealand tourist Sarah Carter, who died after staying at The Downtown Inn in Chiang Mai, on a website they set up titled Thailand Travel Tragedies and at least one Bangkok-based freelance journalist who has been particularly vitriolic in condemning the handling of the deaths by Thai authorities, along with no shortage of wild conspiracy theories dreamed up by some sections of the Thailand expatriate community.

Though Dow remains the largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos today, other manufacturers include Dow Agro Sciences LLC, a division of Dow Chemicals which also trades as Dow Elanco, Danish company Cheminova, Spanish company Makteshim-Agan, Garda in India and US company Platte Chemical Company Chemical.

In an interview published in The Dominion, United Nations scientist, Ron McDowall, said there was a strong likelihood Wellington woman Sarah Carter and at least six other people had died died from excessive exposure to chlorpyrifos, which causes identical symptoms to those suffered by guests staying at, or visiting, The Downtown Inn in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai tourists “killed by an overzealous bed bug sprayer”

Thailand police have raided the company responsible for pest extermination at The Downtown Inn in Chiang Mai where seven tourists died earlier this year.

Thailand police have raided the company responsible for pest extermination at The Downtown Inn in Chiang Mai where seven tourists died earlier this year. File Photo: John Le Fevre

According to Dr. McDowall, the fact that traces of chlorpyrifos were found three months after Carter’s death and after the room was cleaned suggested there was a high concentration when she was staying there.

“I think she has been killed by an overzealous sprayer who’s been acting on the instructions of the hotel owner to deal with bed bugs,” McDowall said.

Dr. McDowall said he had consulted with other experts in New Zealand and Italy and all agreed the likely cause of death of the seven was from excessive exposure to pest control chemicals.

Thailand police confirmed they are looking into the possibility the tourists were killed by over exposure to pest control chemicals and had already raided the pest control company used by the hotel.

Richard Carter, father of dead tourist Sarah Carter, said it was “good to get an answer” about how his daughter died, though added that “it’s pretty horrific that they have such low standards that this can happen”.

If chlorpyrifos can be proved to be linked to the deaths of the seven tourists in Chiang Mai the result will be a serious blow to the city’s tourism industry, as well as to the general tourism sector in Thailand until authorities announce what steps they will take to prevent lethal chemicals such as this being used in tourist accommodation areas, how it will be policed, and whether any criminal charges are laid.

Chlorpyrifos may also explain the deaths of American tourist Jill St Onge and Norwegian holiday-maker Julie Michelle Bergheim at The Laleena Guesthouse on Koh Phi Ph on May 6, 2009, with postmortem examinations, including one in Norway, failing to determine the cause of death of Ms. Bergheim.

It was not possible to obtain comments from Chiang Mai government officials or management of The Downtown Inn in Chiang Mai due to today being Sunday. A response from Dow Chemical has been sought, but not been received up to the time of publication.

Ends:

© John Le Fevre, 2011

See: USEPA chlorpyrifos Fact Sheet

See: 60 Minutes New Zealand episode: To Die For

Related: Thailand authorities dismiss chlorpyrifos as cause of Chiang Mai hotel tourist deaths

Related: Chiang Mai tourist death hotel mystery remains – governor slams foreign media report

Related: Lost smiles in LOS as Thailand travel tragedies website goes live

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Tourist deaths in Chiang Mai • Tourist deaths in Thailand • Tourist deaths in Chiang Mai • Tourist deaths in Thailand • chlorpyrifos • police investigation • Dow Chemical CompanyDowntown Inn Chiang Mai • Thailand Travel Tragedies • Dow Chemical Company • Soraya Pandola • Bill Mah • Sarah Carter • Waraporn Pungmahisiranon • George Everitt • Eileen Everitt • neurotoxin • Cheminova • Makteshim-Agan • Garda • USEPA

Dow chemical’s chlorpyrifos pesticide found in Chiang Mai tourist death hotel, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

The following two tabs change content below.

John Le Fevre

Deputy editor, Thailand & GMS editor at The Establishment Post

John Le Fevre is an Australian national with more than 35 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer and copy editor.

He is currently deputy editor and Thailand / GMS region editor for The Establishment Post

Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me

8 Responses to "Dow chemical’s chlorpyrifos pesticide found in Chiang Mai tourist death hotel"

  1. Curt   May 20, 2011 at 6:57 am

    In the US, “traces” of chlorpyrifos have been found in apples from New Zealand, the highest concentrations of all foods tested. What might this suggest?

    Here is a bit of “news” that I haven’t seen reported anywhere:

    Progress on epidemiologic investigation of myocarditis cases in Chiangmai (Updated 22 March 2011)

    It might explain all the conspirator’s satisfaction with the “coincidence theory”.

    Although one might suggest that the hospital has joined in the “cover up”, the report seems to contain some facts that none of the blogs or newspapers feel like reporting.

    Reply
    • John Le Fevre   May 20, 2011 at 9:15 am

      Thanks for reading Curt,

      The document your refer to is one prepared by the Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Public Health, Chiang Mai and is referenced and linked to in my original article on the establishment of the Thailand Travel Tragedies website. It’s not an easy link for people to find – buried on a website that is predominately in Thai language.

      Thank you for reading,

      JLF

      Reply
  2. Editor, BCPC News   May 19, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    Why is your informative article illustrated by a photograph of a packet of a product containing methyl parathion?

    Methyl parathion is a very different insecticide from chlorpyrifos as it is at least ten times more toxic than chlorpyrifos.

    Reply
    • John Le Fevre   May 20, 2011 at 9:24 am

      Thank you for reading.

      The manufacturer lists this product under it’s range of “Chlorpyrifos Insecticides”.

      “We offer a range of Chlorpyrifos Insecticides which includes Fenvalerate 0.4% D.P, Chlorpyrifos 50%, Cypermethrin, 5% E.C and Methyl Parathion 2% D.P.”

      Thanks for reading,

      JLF

      Reply
  3. guyinthailand   May 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Please note that it only takes one TEASPOON of chlorpyrifos taken orally to kill but it takes a ridiculous and unrealistic amount poured on the skin (4 ounces) or inhaled (a cloud of 15 grams breathed for 4 hours) to cause death. Chlorpyrifos is the most heavily used pesticide in the world so it is no surprise they found it in the hotel rooms because it is sprayed in tens of thousands of hotel rooms–but never with sudden deaths as these tourist experienced. The oral poison I believe they ingested doesn’t have to be chlorpyrifos, which apparently does have a smell—but, then again, if a teaspoon of it were put in a giant tropical drink or a spicy, garlic, onion dish—would you notice? At any rate, there are hundreds of pesticides many of them odorless and colorless and many if not most kill the same way: easily by ingestion, difficult by skin or lung. All other possible causes proposed so far–including chlorpyrifos acquired via skin or lung, toxic seaweed, fish, ‘regular’ food poisoning, pool, echovirus, Legionaires Disease–have been shown to be implausible. Let’s take note that Thailand cannot be the only country in the world without serial killers. Just because you don’t hear about them in the Thai media only means the Thais don’t do thorough investigations and, if they were to actually find one who was killing tourists, would be very likely to cover it up. To rule out a (serial) killer without a full investigation is a mistake no Western detective would make. I am ‘pushing’ the murder theory based on my knowledge of routine murder and mayhem in Thailand that never gets caught much less punished and also basing it on the symptoms of victims, which, at this point, ONLY match ingestion of insecticides. I am ‘pushing’ the murder theory so that this THEORY gets investigated, because no good investigator would rule it out unless the evidence were overwhelming to rule it out. There may be another viable possible cause put forth soon, but up until this date, the ONLY thing that ‘fits’ is INGESTION of pesticides.

    Reply
  4. guyinthailand   May 17, 2011 at 2:03 am

    insecticide? Probably. But not by breathing or skin

    It is not surprising they found traces of Chlorpyrifos in the room. The stuff is the most widely used insecticide in the world. Chlorpyrifos may have been the culprit–I’ve said all along insecticides were at top of suspicion list–BUT…Nope, can’t be from the sheets, the air or the walls. It takes 4 ounces (at least) on the skin of an adult to kill so the sheets would have had to have been soaked in the stuff. Soaked. And they would have had to have gotten the entire 4 ounces squeezed out of the sheets and onto just one body. Sorry, this ‘sheet theory’ doesn’t wash.

    Plus there are very few–if any–cases of sudden deaths in the scientific literature resulting from dermal (skin) exposure.

    “Chlorpyrifos is the world’s leading insecticide in volume terms(2). The acute oral LD50 (the Lethal Dose required to kill half of a population of laboratory test animals) for chlorpyrifos is between 135-165 mg/kg for rats(7). The dermal LD50 for chlorpyrifos in male and female rats is greater than 2,000 mg/kg. It is classified by the World Health Organisation as a Class II, ‘moderately hazardous’ pesticide(8).” http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles…rifos-ext.html
    and
    http://www.pan-uk.org/pestnews/Actives/chlorpyr.htm

    So you can see that the dose needed to kill by dermal (skin) is 2,000 mg per kg body weight, which is equal to 2 grams per kg body weight. Chiang Mai victims weighed, let’s say, around 60 kg each, so to die from skin exposure they would have needed to have had 120 grams poured on them–about four ounces.

    But to die from oral exposure one only need 135 mg per kg or about 7 grams total to kill 50% of a any 60kg group exposed. A teaspoon of the stuff will weigh close to 7 grams so I would indeed like to see the fatuous governor or Chiang Mai, the idiot who has already said the 7 Chiang Mai deaths (see link below) are coincidences and who now says he will eat a “spoon” of it–I’d very much like to see him eat a teaspoon of chlorpyrifos while the cameras are rolling so we can determine if he is in the 50% that will live but get extremely sick, or in the group of 50% that will die. And if he uses a TABLEspoon instead of a teaspoon? His contortions and writhing and foaming at the mouth and respiratory arrest will make fantastic viewing on websites.

    “The 4-hour inhalation LC50 (lethal concentration) for chlorpyrifos in rats is greater than 200 mg/m3. Three hundred and nineteen human exposure incidents were reported by the Pesticide Incident Monitoring System (PIMS) from 1970 through 1981, most resulting from inhalation and dermal exposure. Three human deaths were caused by chlorpyrifos” Chlorpyrifos
    200mg/sq meter in a 5x5x3 hotel room would mean a 15 gram cloud of the stuff would have to be hanging around the room for four hours. So very doubtful the just suddenly dropped dead from breathing the stuff.

    So you can see that out of the 319 exposures reported in 11 years in this one study, there were 3 deaths from the stuff even though most of the reported exposures were by inhalation and dermal exposure. (and the three deaths may have been from ingestion–study doesn’t say). There aren’t too many cases (or any) of sudden deaths from inhalation just as there aren’t many sudden deaths from dermal exposure because you need so much of the stuff to die by these routes. Many people made really sick by skin exposure and breathing? Sure. But not sudden deaths by skin or breathing it.

    To reliably and quickly die from the stuff you have to eat only about a teaspoon of it. Not hard to slip a teaspoon of the stuff into an exotic drink or dish at a crowded market.

    Plus, chlorpyrifos is sprayed all over the world in vast quantities and you never hear about people healthy one minute and dead the next who lay on some sheets or breathed some of it.

    Plus, the Chiang Mai victims were staying in three or four different hotels, making it even more unlikely for skin exposure or breathing exposure.

    Plus, I read–but haven’t confirmed–that chlorpyrifos really stinks and, if this is true, probably would have been noticed if in the air or on the sheets.(“Chlorpyrifos has a mild mercaptan (thiol) odor, similar to the smell of sulfur compounds found in rotten eggs, onions, garlic and skunks”)

    The poison doesn’t have to be chlorpyrifos, which apparently does have a smell—but, then again, if a little tiny teaspoon of it were put in a giant tropical drink or a spicy, garlic, onion dish—would you notice? At any rate, there are hundreds of pesticides many of them odorless and colorless.

    But drink a tiny amount of the stuff and you’re a ‘gonner’ quickly.

    Let’s all quit pretending that Thailand is the only country in the world without serial killers. Just because you don’t hear about them in the Thai media only means the Thais don’t do thorough investigations and, if they were to actually find one who was killing tourists, would be very likely to cover it up. To rule out a serial killer without a full investigation is a mistake no Western detective would make–unless the evidence was overwhelming.

    Reply
  5. Michael Cosgrove   May 14, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    John you say
    “It would also lay to rest accusations of a cover up made by the family of New Zealand tourist Sarah Carter, who died after staying at The Downtown Inn in Chiang Mai, on a website they set up titled Thailand Travel Tragedies and at least one Bangkok-based freelance journalist who has been particularly vitriolic in condemning the handling of the deaths by Thai authorities, along with no shortage of wild conspiracy theories dreamed up by some sections of the Thailand expatriate community”

    While this may be so there are a couple of interesting points to emerge. These conspiracy theories have germinated because the authorities up in Chiang Mai have either been unable or unwilling to satisfactorily get to the bottom of why these deaths occured. We all know there is a certain amount of corruption in the country and also a number of high profile crimes that have not been resolved over the years with the inference being that everything has not been above board. Added to that is apparent ease with which a probable solution has been found by people engaged by a small TV company from NZ.

    Into this mix can be added an unscrupulous chemical company who will probably shrug their shoulders and say they can’t be held responsible for the incompetence of some pest control dimwit.

    I’m afraid it all adds up to distasteful state of affairs. This is big news back home and one hopes it will not be allowed to fade away in Thailand.

    Reply
    • John Le Fevre   May 14, 2011 at 6:29 pm

      Thanks for reading Michael,

      The comment only refers to the difficulty in identifying the substance postmortem. The extremely short half-life would also explain why the autopsy performed in Norway after one of the Koh Phi Phi deaths was unable to determine a cause of death. A cover-up would imply Thai authorities new the cause of death and were concealing it, much like the actions of Dow in the 90s.

      Now that the cause is known the actions of foreign governments and travel industry bodies, along with that of the Thai government, are all on the table and subject to judgement.

      Comments have been sought from all interested parties. Please check back again soon.

      Best regards,

      John Le Fevre

      Reply

Leave a Reply