The residents of five upper Mothithang buildings comprising under a 100 residents thought that the worst of their water problems was a saboteur repeatedly pumping kerosene and chilli into their drinking water supply.
However, when the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) recently nabbed the culprit, Sangay Dorji, he not only confessed to pumping in kerosene but also bathroom cleaner Phenol, paint thinner and paint at different times.
While people could detect the strong smelling kerosene two times and later the visible red colour paint in their water the residents of all six buildings seem to have consumed Phenol and paint thinners without knowing it.
The Water Terrorist
At the time he was caught by the RBP, Sangay Dorji worked as a long time family servant of the owner of the sixth building Pema Jungney, who is a former bureaucrat having worked in the then Ministry of Trade and Industry.
What increased the suspicions of the police is that whenever an incident took place it either did not affect the particular sixth building or only a limited affect was seen.
When questioned by the police Sangay Dorji confessed that he was involved and he gave up all the modified bottles, pipe and other equipment he used to tamper the distribution point of the water. The police also found buckets and empty containers of Phenol, paint, paint thinners etc in his room and also the store room of the building.
He said that he did this because the five other buildings in the area which had come up later over the years was drawing water from the same Thromde pipe and so water was not enough. He told the RBP that by poisoning the water supply he hoped that the buildings would draw water from other sources.
He tampered and poisoned the water supply from the T-Point on multiple occasions between 8 pm and 9 pm, when the Thromde water supply did not come. He filled up the empty drinking water pipes with the chemicals. He then would close the water supply to his building tank. When the water did come the next day it would flush the chemicals to the other buildings pipes. After the chemicals had gone to other buildings he would open his pipe and let it flush into a drain for a while before allowing the water into the tank.
Upon the Thimphu Thromde pouring concrete over the T-Point after the RBP started its investigation, Sangay Dorji found another opening point in the Thromde pipe and he pumped in more chemicals including red paint on at least two separate occasions.
On further questioning and assurance given by the RBP that he should take his last chance to share all information before heading to court Sangay Dorji gave a second statement where he said that he did all this water tampering and poisoning under the guidance and instructions of his master Pema Jungney.
Later when Pema Jungney came to the police station to answer a few questions and give a statement the RBP allowed the two to talk and face each other.
After being confronted by Pema Jungney, Sangay Dorji changed his statement to the police again saying that it was only he who is responsible and in the process the RBP ended up with three differing statements from Sangay Dorji.
Talking to The Bhutanese, Pema Jungney denied any involvement at all saying that he himself was very ‘mad and annoyed’ at his servant Sangay Dorji for doing such things. Pema said that Sangay Dorji had done all this without his knowledge and so Sangay must face the full consequences of the law for his actions. Pema said that his reputation precedes him and someone like himself would never even think of doing such a thing as he has served the government for many years and he is known to ‘look after the welfare of the general public’.
Pema Jungney said, “In the police station I asked to meet Sangay Dorji in front of the RBP and on meeting him I asked him if I had even hit him once in the 20 to 22 years of service with us. I told him that you have done something that is illegal and you have to go according to the law.”
“I said I will help you as much as possible and that I have worked as a security man and I know the full law and he has to face the consequences. Then he totally denied and then he changed the statement saying it was only him,” Pema added.
A landlord, Chencho Wangmo said that over a period of few years she had noticed a total of around seven cases of tampering with the water supply in her building alone. She said that a few years ago there was a reddish chemical like substance in the water pipes that turned the water milky, and on another occasion chilli juice came through the water pipes. Her caretaker on one occasion noticed a chemical like smell, similar to a poisonous pesticide used in small quantities mixed with water to kill parasite on the bodies of livestock.
Tenant, Dechen Choden Dorji said that without realizing she fed her seven month old baby daughter with food made from the kerosene water and as a result she had to be rushed to the hospital. Her same daughter also had recently been hit by Pneumonia. Her elder daughter also drank tea made from the kerosene water.
Dechen said she used the water to drink and cook including for the baby and now she is worried about the long term consequences for her baby and her family members with other chemicals like Phenol, paint and paint thinners in the water.
Dechen, said, “This kind of crime is equivalent to murder and so the strongest action should be taken. We are living in fear.” She said that she wants to move out but it is difficult to get other empty apartments.
Dechen, like many other residents refused to believe that it was only Sangay Dorji who alone did all of the above without any help and guidance.
She said, “The RBP needs to investigate more and find out who are the other people involved otherwise it can happen again.”
Another resident Karma Yangzom said that such acts endanger human lives and so should be taken seriously. After finding out about the kerosene water she took her entire family to Paro.
Karma also said that it must be investigated if there were others also involved along with Sangay Dorji. She said that if this can happen to five buildings in Mothithang then it can happen elsewhere. She also said if serious action is not taken then it can motivate others to do the same thing.
A caretaker of one building Penjo said that it difficult to believe that only Sangay Dorji could have carried out such a complicated operation all by himself.
The landlord of another nearby affected building Jigme Chogyal said that if there are any health impacts then the guilty should be charged. He said his son’s eyes recently turned red and the doctors said it was not conjunctivitis. He said he now suspects the water.
Another landlord, Kinley Tenzin said that the water still smelt of kerosene. In fact most residents have found that given the multiple times that Sangay Dorji poisoned the water it has a strange chemical and kerosene like smell to it. Residents suspect it to be residue stuck to the tank sides and bottom.
Kinley Tenzin, who is familiar with Pema Jungney took a different position and said that Sangay Dorji must have done all this on his own.
Resident’s also questioned how it was possible that Sangay Dorji as a simple servant could get away with such blatant and repeated activities with so much equipment and chemicals under the very noses of Pema Jungney and his family. This is especially when the T-Point is just behind the sixth building.
Here Pema Jungney said that once Sangay Dorji did his work he was left to his own devices and moreover he stayed on his own in a room above the garage. Pema said that all the chemicals and water equipment which Sangay had used were available in most households.
Health Impact of the poisoning
The Center for Diseases Control website of USA says that ingestion of liquid products containing phenol can cause serious gastrointestinal damage and even death. Apart from skin damage exposure to high levels of phenol causes damage to the heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs.
Paint Thinner is also a dangerous chemical whose ingestion causes damage to various internal organs.
In many cases residents even consumed the kerosene laced water realizing only later when a few others residents pointed out the problem. According to medical literature kerosene consumption in concentrated quantities can lead to death and apart from that its causes damage to the gastrointestinal system, heart, lungs, blood, nervous system, eyes, ears, nose and throat.
Though many residents came to know about the Paint in the water, but due to its sticky nature and the stationary position of water storage tanks there is still some paint residue in the tanks even after cleaning. Paint is a source of lead which is harmful in multiple ways but particularly affects children.
Even at low levels, lead can be harmful for children and be associated with, learning disabilities resulting in a decreased intelligence (decreased IQ), attention deficit disorder, behavior issues, nervous system damage, speech and language impairment, decreased muscle growth, decreased bone growth and kidney damage.
The RBP investigation is still ongoing.