Sunday, May 8, 2011

Insecticide Likely Cause of Death at Thai Hotel

Otago Daily Times: The sudden death of a New Zealander in Thailand was likely caused by exposure to a potentially fatal insecticide used at the hotel she was staying at to kill bed bugs, a United Nations scientist says.

Sarah Carter, aged 23, fell ill on February 3 while staying at the Downtown Inn in Chiang Mai and died a day later. Her two friends and travel companions, Emma Langlands and Amanda Eliason, also fell ill but later recovered. Early reports suggested her death was caused by toxic seaweed, but food-poisoning tests were inconclusive.

An elderly British couple, a Thai tourist guide and a Canadian man died after staying at the same hotel or using its facilities, while two other women died in similar circumstances within one month. A investigation aired by 60 Minutes tonight showed trace elements of the chemical chlorpyrifos, used to kill bed bugs, was found in the hotel room Ms Carter was staying in.

Ron McDowall, who works for the UN, said the symptoms suffered by Ms Carter and the other tourists who died suggested she was killed by over exposure to the chemical. The fact that traces of chlorpyrifos were found three months after Ms 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," Dr McDowall said. Even a slight mistake in the dosage of chlorpyrifos, which has been banned for indoor use in many countries, could be lethal, he said. Dr McDowall checked his theory with other experts from New Zealand and Italy, who supported his belief that Ms Carter was killed by the chemical.

"Their reaction was that it's quite clear that it's chlorpyrifos poisoning... the symptoms are the same, the pathology is the same and the proxy indicates that the chemical was present in the room."

A Thailand police inspector said police were looking into the possibility the tourists were killed by over exposure to pest control chemicals. Ms Carter's father Richard Carter said it was "good to get an answer" about how his daughter died.

"It's still pretty horrific that they have such low standards that that can happen," Mr Carter said. Ms Carter's mother, Anna Carter, said she hoped action would be taken so other tourists would not die.

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