Week of Monday, July 5, 2021 | Issue 19
Alyssa Schmidt, Sam Shames, Emergency Management, Health, and Hazards (EMH2) Team
ATEX Explosive Atmosphere Area Zone Warning
Date: July 6, 2021
Location: Samut Prakan, Thailand
Parties involved: Ming Dih Chemical Co; Thailand government; Thailand Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation; Local Emergency Services; Samut Prakan residents
The event: Around 0300 local time on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, the Ming Dih Chemical Co factory outside of Bangkok, Thailand exploded creating clouds of toxic black smoke which caused individuals within a 3-mile radius to evacuate. Almost 24 hours later, there was a second explosion, leaving at least 60 emergency personnel injured and one firefighter killed between the two events. Since the factory manufactures plastic pellets and houses flammable chemicals that could produce poisonous fumes, emergency officials and environmentalists are monitoring the impact of the explosion on the atmosphere and nearby water sources. Although the cause of the explosion is unknown, factory workers reported a strong chemical odor prior to the explosion, prompting them to evacuate the site before the first explosion.
Despite experiencing a recent surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, government officials in Thailand are promoting tourism in Phuket after months of travel restrictions. With concerns growing regarding the Delta Variant, the efficacy of the Sinovac Vaccine against the variant, and increased hospitalizations, this explosion puts more stress on citizens, emergency management, and healthcare workers. Hospitals are already overwhelmed, leading to the conversion of Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok's main airport, into a COVID-19 overflow center to improve surge capacity. With the airport still in use for international travel, this could create a worsened situation for those coming into contact with COVID-19. Although segregation measures are likely in place, the multipurpose building increases the threat of the virus within and for those departing the country.
Another major health concern is the result of the explosion and inhalation of the toxic chemicals. The large influx of sick and injured patients will likely place further stress and demand on the hospital system, with the potential of leaving people untreated. Without access to medical care, this could increase the probability of poor health outcomes and may lead to fatalities.
The explosion released a toxic chemical called Styrene into the atmosphere, raising concerns about water and air pollution. Officials have warned that heavy rainfall later that day could potentially cause those chemicals to runoff into nearby water sources, thus contaminating the city’s water. Styrene is a chemical known for being a human carcinogen, with evidence suggesting it may be linked to cancer. The long-term impact on the development of cancer in residents has influenced officials to conduct water and air quality tests. As this is not the first explosion at the factory, the recent incident suggests that future incidents are possible, which could potentially lead to repeated exposure to Styrene, likely causing individuals to have long-term health problems.
Many emergency personnel were injured while responding to the second blast causing a decrease in the worker’s productivity due to depleted resources to assist with the recovery efforts. The remaining personnel have not been provided with adequate safety equipment, increasing their susceptibility to acute or chronic illness due to exposure at the site. If the emergency personnel continue to be physically impacted by the incident, there may not be enough individuals to assist with future hazards, likely to lead to improper mediation of future incidents.
The explosion caused windows and doors of the houses in the surrounding area to break which could be hard to repair for financially unstable residents. It also displaced many individuals due to the unsafe air quality which could leave people without a place to live until they are allowed back in their homes. It is highly likely that the government will have to provide aid and housing while they are evaluating the damage and determining whether it is safe to return to the area. The families in the meantime will have to find temporary living arrangements until they are assisted. It may be difficult to distribute funds to the impacted residents who were impacted due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which could likely cause a humanitarian crisis since they will be left without the proper necessities to protect themselves.
Since the factory is destroyed, the buyers of plastic pellets will have to look elsewhere for their business. This will cause the company to lose money and customers which is likely to impact their business as Thailand’s Industry Ministry is now requiring them to relocate in the future if they were to rebuild their factory. Factory workers will have to find new jobs which could be difficult due to the increased unemployment rate that occurred from the pandemic. If the workers are left unemployed, they may turn to other forms of income such as crime to help alleviate the financial stress from this tragedy.
These two deadly explosions combined with another fire at the nearby Floral Manufacturing Group Co factory in Eastern Bangkok on the same day have raised concerns about current safety standards of factories in Thailand which could lead to revisions of current safety measures. Additionally, officials at the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand are considering reviewing fire protection measures. Factory workers may have to receive improved training on fire protection and proper handling of hazardous materials to prevent future incidents from taking place which may impact the time spent creating products for the factory.
 Evacuations ordered after Thai chemical factory explodes, ABC News, July, 2021, https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/blast-thai-factory-shakes-bangkok-airport-area-evacuated-78667443
 2nd chemical fire at Bangkok factory highlights health risks, AP News, July, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/thailand-business-fires-36c56094bb49af8fb53a94e720ecaba5
 Thailand Turns Bangkok Terminal to Hospital as Covid Worsens, Bloomberg, July, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-07-07/thailand-turns-air-terminal-to-covid-clinic-as-hospitals-swamped
 Styrene, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, March 2021, https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/styrene/index.cfm
 Ministry tells Ming Dih Co to relocate, Bangkok Post, July 2021,