Thailand public health authorities have dismissed claims made by New Zealand 60 Minutes that the widely-used chemical agent chlorpyrifos is behind the deaths of a number of tourists at the Downtown Inn in Chiang Mai earlier this year.
The New Zealand current affairs program, supported by United Nations scientist Dr. Ron McDowall, made the claim in an episode titled To Die For, in which Dr. McDowall said he believed the dead Chiang Mai tourists had been ‚Äúkilled by an overzealous sprayer who‚Äôs been acting on the instructions of the hotel owner to deal with bed bugs,‚Äù
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.
Chlorpyrifos not the cause of Chiang Mai tourist deaths
However, a statement issued by the Department of Disease Control (DDC), Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) and the Chiang Mai provincial authorities (CMPA), International toxicologists consulted in Chiang Mai tourist deaths – Update 3 said “toxicology experts had reviewed the available evidence and discussed several possible causes involving toxins and chemical agents as a cause of death, including the suggestion made by the New Zealand TV3¬†60 Minutes program that chlorpyrifos was responsible for the death of New Zealander Sarah Carter and the illness of her two traveling companions and laboratory investigation do not support chlorpyrifos as a cause
“Though a cause has not been clearly identified to date, experts recognized that chlorpyrifos generally emits a strong odor which was not noted by the two surviving women and noted that chlorpyrifos is not well absorbed by the skin, nor would it cause rapid illness or death in a healthy adult unless it was ingested or inhaled in very high quantities.
“The toxicologists are also considering the possibility that other chemical agents including those found in pest control products might cause signs, symptoms and laboratory findings consistent with the features seen. Experts are also currently working to identify the most suitable laboratories to carry out specific tests for selected pest control ingredients in the remaining samples.
“Concurrently, environmental and toxicology assessments involving experts and laboratories from the the Department of Health, MOPH; Ministry of Agriculture; Ramathibodi Poison Center; the Faculty of Agriculture, and Chiang Mai University are underway at the hotel where the four persons died”, the report states.
The statement said the investigatory group had sought the assistance of international toxicology experts earlier this month to determine whether toxins or chemical agents might be involved in the deaths of five foreign tourists and a Thai guide, along with the associated illnesses of three other individuals centering around the Downtown Inn in Chiang Mai earlier this year.
The report covers five deaths in Chiang Mai and said the people who died and fell ill are being examined in three groups based on the hotels they stayed in as follows:
- Soraya Pandola (age 33) who died on January 11, 2011 and her Canadian colleague (age 29) who fell ill
- An unnamed French woman (age 25) who died on January 19, 2011
- Waraporn Pungmahisiranon (age 47), a Thai tourist guide,¬† who died on February 3, 2011
- Sarah Carter (age 23) who died February 6, 2011 and her two¬† companions (both age 23) who both fell ill
- George and Eileen Everitt, (age 78 and 74) who both died on February 19, 2011
According to the report, “Based on findings currently available, there is insufficient evidence to link the illnesses and deaths among these three groups. The American, Canadian and French woman had no activities in connection with other hotels and other cases. The French women also began to fall ill few days before arrival in Chiang Mai.”
Experts from five countries called-on to solve Chiang Mai death hotel riddle
The report said the assistance of expert toxicologists have been sought as part of the on-going investigation into the Chiang Mai tourist deaths, including experts in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, and Sri Lanka, in addition to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC).
The assistance of these toxicologists was sought following a meeting of clinicians, epidemiologists, pathologists, toxicologists, laboratory specialists, police, the WHO and the US CDC in Chiang Mai on May 10, 2011.
The report says an initial assessment of overnight room ventilation in April found adequate air ventilation with normal levels of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide; and no evidence of carbon monoxide accumulation.
According to the report the investigation has so far found few common traits except that:
- All occurred in Chiang Mai between January 11 and February 19, 2011
- Six of the nine reported people affected lodged at one hotel (three were at two different hotels)
- The first six people identified are young (aged 23 to 29) female, non-Thai nationals
The report notes reports that a Canadian man who died in January, Bill Mah, aged 59, from Alberta, Canada, may have used the swimming pool of the hotel where the Thai woman, the New Zealand women and the United Kingdom couple stayed, the Downtown Inn, Chiang Mai, but says it has not been possible to confirm these reports or even to establish the day when this visit was supposed to have occurred.
Of the postmortem and pathological examinations conducted, the report state: “the available evidence from medical records and autopsy by forensic expert do not currently support linkage with other deaths. Therefore the death of this man (Mr. Mah) has not been included in the cluster.
According to the statement “it was initially believed on the basis of clinical findings that myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) was a common factor in a number of deaths. However, although it is clear that heart muscle damage occurred in these cases, further investigation of clinical, laboratory and histopathology records, has only established clear evidence of myocarditis in the case of the French woman.
“It is partly this evidence that has resulted in the scope of the investigation being widened to look for other causes of cardiac damage (that can mimic the clinical appearance of myocarditis), including toxins and chemical agents.
“A final explanation of the most likely cause of the event(s), including exact cause of illnesses and deaths, and any important related factors, will be made based upon the synthesis of evidence from clinical, epidemiological, laboratory, environmental and forensic investigations.
“It is important to highlight that a complex investigation such as this which also includes international laboratory analyses takes time. Any new toxicology results are also likely to take time if specimens need to be shipped to specialist laboratories. It is also possible that cases may not all be linked, and may instead be due to different causes. Despite the best efforts of Thai authorities and international partners, a complete explanation for the cause of deaths may not be found for all cases”, the report said.
The statement said the Thai Ministry of Public Health will provide information as it becomes available.
¬© John Le Fevre, 2011
Footnote: The only online source for the original Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) document attempts to download a .php file. Due to the dangers of downloading scripts the URL has not been provided. The Ministry has been contacted to supply a standard online URL for viewing its document and a link will be provided if a response is received.
Tourist deaths in Chiang Mai ‚Ä¢ Tourist deaths in Thailand ‚Ä¢ chlorpyrifos ‚Ä¢ police investigation ‚Ä¢ Dow Chemical Company ‚Ä¢ Downtown Inn Chiang Mai ‚Ä¢ Thailand Travel Tragedies ‚Ä¢ George Everitt ‚Ä¢ Eileen Everitt ‚Ä¢ Panadda Disakul ‚Ä¢ Northern Thailand ‚Ä¢ Thailand current events ‚Ä¢ Thailand tourism ‚Ä¢ Thailand travel ‚Ä¢ Tourism/travel industry ‚Ä¢ Thailand tourist deaths ‚Ä¢ The Downtown Inn ‚Ä¢ Koh Phi Phi tourist deaths ‚Ä¢ Unexplained deaths ‚Ä¢
He is currently deputy editor and Thailand / GMS region editor for The Establishment Post
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