|Patients being treated at Bắc Ninh Province’s General Hospital.— VNA/VNS Photo Thái Hùng
HÀ NỘI — One person has died and 37 others have been hospitalised at Bạch Mai Hospital in Hà Nội due to methanol poisoning after an industrial accident in Bắc Ninh.
The patients, who work for HSTECH Vina Co., Ltd in the northern province of Bắc Ninh’s Thuận Thành 3 Industrial Park, inhaled methanol-contaminated air or had direct contact with the toxic substance through their skin.
Six of the patients are in severe condition.
HSTECH Vina Co., Ltd is an electronics components manufacturer with a product line that includes metal components produced through knife cutting.
According to the patients, in the cutting stage, an ethanol sprayer cools the cutter. Workers also wipe some components with ethanol.
From the last week of February, the company began using a new batch of ethanol. Workers began reporting feeling tired and suffering from headaches.
Of the workers being taken to Bạch Mai Hospital, the female patient named N.T.H., 42 years old, residing in Thuận Thành District, Bắc Ninh Province, suffered the most methanol poisoning.
She started getting sick on February 27 with symptoms of blurred vision, headaches, nausea, and then lethargy.
She was taken to the province’s Thuận Thành General Hospital before being quickly transferred to Bạch Mai Hospital for further treatment on February 28.
The patient was admitted to the Poison Control Centre under Bạch Mai Hospital with symptoms of coma, hypotension, severe metabolic acidosis, blood methanol concentration of 123.16 mg/dL, and severe brain damage on both sides.
Although doctors did all they could, the brain damage was severe. Her family asked to bring her home, and she passed away shortly after.
The second most serious patient, T.V.N., a Dao ethnic man from the mountainous province of Cao Bằng, was taken to Bắc Ninh Province’s General Hospital on February 24.
He was transferred to the poison control centre under Bạch Mai Hospital with symptoms of coma, hypotension, severe metabolic acidosis, severe brain damage on both sides and a blood methanol concentration of 125 mg/dL.
The patient was given resuscitation and dialysis. Currently, his consciousness has improved, but his brain is still damaged. He also suffered damage to his eyes.
What causes methanol poisoning?
Nguyễn Trung Nguyên, director of the Poison Control Centre, said that the ethanol used by the company to cool the cutter, which a patient's family sent to the centre for testing, had a high methanol concentration of 77.83 per cent.
When the first patients were taken to the hospital, he said the centre’s doctors identified methanol poisoning in the working environment.
The centre has sent a report to the Ministry of Health and has called on the company to send workers with abnormal symptoms for examination and treatment.
The centre also coordinated with Bắc Ninh Province’s General Hospital to implement a strategy of quick screening of workers to detect and treat people with symptoms of poisoning on the spot.
Blood samples of all workers, who were examined at the provincial general hospital, were sent to the poison control centre for testing by gas chromatographic methods.
Nguyên said this was the most modern test method to determine methanol concentration in blood.
Preventing methanol poisoning
|Nguyễn Trung Nguyên, director of the Poison Control Centre under Bạch Mai Hospital, assesses a patient's level of brain damage caused by methanol poisoning .— Photo courtesy of the hospital
Nguyên said authorised agencies needed to take drastic measures to control industrial alcohol containing methanol strictly.
Products containing methanol must have clear warning labels about the name, specific ingredients, harmful effects on health and precautions, he said.
He said people who use methanol products must strictly follow the instructions for safe use and storage.
"People are advised to be always wary of products that claim to be ethanol or are labelled as ethanol because these products are highly susceptible to counterfeiting and contain methanol," he said.
He said methanol enters the body easily through the skin, respiratory tract and digestion.
If people work in a methanol-contaminated air environment, they should be fully enclosed with a head suit, gloves and boots, combined with a closed respirator which is connected to the oxygen system pumped from the outside to ensure the safety of workers, he said.
Reviewing work safety
Nguyễn Thế Quyết, chairman of the province’s Trade Union of Industrial Parks, talked to Lao động (Labour) online newspaper after the methanol poisoning case at the company was reported.
The trade union had ordered the industrial park to review all the occupational safety procedures to prevent the occurrence of similar accidents in the future.
Every year, the trade union sends documents on occupational safety and health to companies in the local industrial parks.
The trade union is also working with HSTECH Vina Co., Ltd to support workers who suffered from methanol poisoning.
Đặng Văn Khánh of the Việt Nam General Confederation of Labour said it had given instructions to the Bắc Ninh Province’s Labour Confederation to coordinate with local authorised agencies to support the victims.
He said it had to clarify whether or not the enterprise had fully implemented measures to ensure labour safety. If not, the enterprise's failings in complying with the provisions of the law on ensuring occupational safety and health for employees must be strictly handled as a deterrent to similar cases in the future.
He emphasised that such cases needed to be made public so other businesses could draw from the experiences. — VNS