An ammonia leak from an ice-making plant irritated people’s eyes and throats and enveloped the capital of Vientiane with a strong odor during the evening commute as mechanics worked to fix a broken valve.
Police and military troops blocked off an area around the plant in the city’s Saysettha district on Wednesday as firefighters sprayed water on nearby streets in an attempt to dilute the chemical’s presence.
One Vientiane resident said that a general notification about the leak was never sent to people’s phones.
“I live only 500 meters from the plant. Yesterday, my wife went to pick up my son at school and she said that the smell was unbearable. The odor of the ammonia was so strong,” another resident told Radio Free Asia on Thursday. “It smelled like hair dye.”
Traffic on nearby streets was clogged as commuters attempted to get around the blocked area, according to another resident.
“So many cars got stuck in the traffic, and motorcyclists who weren’t wearing masks were badly affected by the chemical,” he said. “Some of them were having trouble breathing.”
A member of the Capital Vientiane Rescue, Assistance and Relief Team told RFA that they found an “oozing chemical” when they arrived at the plant after 5 p.m.
The cleanup took six hours, he said.
“At around 10:30 p.m., a military expert examined the chemical,” he said. “At around the same time, the plant mechanical team fixed the valve.”
A resident who lives about 6 km (3.7 miles) from the ice plant said he could still smell the gas on Thursday morning. But the resident who lives close to the plant told RFA that the smell had “gradually disappeared” and workers seem to have returned to the plant.
A doctor at Vientiane’s Friendship Hospital recommended that people wash their hair and consider throwing away any clothes that have been exposed to ammonia, which he described as a “dangerous gas.”
Translated by Max Avary. Edited by Matt Reed.