(AFP) – Aug 16, 2011
BANGKOK — Thai authorities said on Tuesday four foreign tourists and a local tour guide who died mysteriously in the northern city of Chiang Mai may have been poisoned by unknown toxic chemicals or pesticides.
In a report into the deaths of six people and illnesses of three others earlier this year, Thailand's Department of Disease Control said three women, from New Zealand, the US and Thailand, "likely died of exposure to pesticides".
Authorities said they could not exclude the possibility that an elderly British couple, found dead at the same hotel as two of the other victims, had also been poisoned, although investigators could not establish a direct link.
The report said the exact agents involved or where they came from could not be identified, but listed rodenticide, used in pest control, and chemicals such as those found in pesticides as possible causes.
The spate of deaths in January and February -- including four in a single hotel -- sparked safety concerns and officials said they are now acting to "reduce the risks of chemical and pesticide exposure to future visitors".
"As difficult as it may be to accept, ultimately, the precise causes for the deaths and illnesses cannot be definitively identified or confirmed," the report said, following a five-month investigation by various Thai ministries with the help of the World Health Organization.
It said that full laboratory screening for toxins was not possible due to inadequate samples, because the need for such testing was "not foreseen at the time of death".
The first incident linked to likely pesticide poisoning occurred on January 11, when a 33-year-old American woman died after falling ill while staying at an unnamed hotel. Her 29-year-old Canadian friend was also hospitalised but recovered.
On February 3, a 47-year-old Thai tour guide was found dead in her room at another Chiang Mai hotel, identified previously as the Downtown Inn.
Three New Zealand women, aged 23, staying in the adjacent room were also taken ill. They were hospitalised on February 4 and one of the women died two days later after heart problems.
On February 19 a British man, 78, and woman, 74, were found dead in their room in the same hotel, the report said.
Investigations into the death of a 25-year-old French woman in a separate hotel in January found her death was unrelated to the others and ruled out chemical poisoning.
Authorities said Tuesday they were implementing steps to prevent future exposure to toxic chemicals, including stricter measures for their use in hotels and markets.
Chiang Mai health authorities told AFP that the Downtown Inn remains open, but said visitor numbers had fallen dramatically.
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