Up to 600 workers taken ill after drinking 'contaminated' water at Bangladesh clothing factory


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The Independent Online

As many as 600 workers of a garment factory in Bangladesh  were taken to hospital on Wednesday after drinking water from the factory’s well. Local authorities suspect that the water was contaminated. 

The incident, at the Starlight Sweater Factory in Gazipur, along with a clash between clothing sector workers and police at Savar, comes a few weeks after the deadliest urban disaster in Bangladesh claimed 1,129 lives. Recent events have worried European clothing buyers regarding safety and compliance issues in the sector.

Swapna Rani, 25, an operator of Starlight Sweater Factory, is one of nine workers who are currently being treated at the Uttara Modern Medical College Hospital (UMMCH). “I had drank from the water jar and around 8:30am felt a searing pain in my stomach. I began vomiting within the next hour,” she told The Independent from her hospital bed on Wednesday evening.

It is reported that as many as 600 workers had fallen sick as they were rushed to Gazipur Sadar Hospital, Tahirunnisa Hospital and other clinics near the factory in Gazipur, a suburb just north of the capital Dhaka. Swapna and 134 others came to the hospital around 2pm in Uttara seeking treatment. “We have heard that something was mixed into the water,” she said.

District civil surgeon Syed Habibullah had told the local media: “We have sent a medical team to the factory to investigate,” speculating that the water was actually contaminated.

“We provided primary treatments to most of the patients,” said Dr Sabbir Ahmed Khan, head of the urology department at UMMCH. “They seemed more affected mentally than physically. We have sent pathological samples of most patients for better diagnosis,” he said.

Khan lamented that the treatments had to be funded with the hospital doctors’ welfare fund as “none of the factory authorities came forward for the treatment of these patients,” he said.

Starlight Sweaters claim to have around 4,000 employees making sweaters and related knit products for international clients like Wal-Mart, Carrefour, La Redoute, Zara, Adams, Dunnes Store, BHS, Buddeli and Ellos.

Also on Wednesday, surviving workers of the Rana Plaza collapse, demanding arrears and compensation following the disaster on 24 April, protested while blocking the highways at Savar. At least 20 people were hurt when the police and local ruling party activists attacked the protests.