BANGKOK – With industrial growth in eastern Thailand and regional economic development rising, extensive – and mostly illegal – disposal of toxic waste is causing great concern to environmentalists. They fear long-term difficulty in rehabilitating polluted land and health hazards that local residents are exposed to.
The concerns also involve the potential spread of hazards to consumers of drinking water and fruit coming out of certain areas.
Somnuek Jongmeewasin, an independent researcher on the environment and community services, voiced fears about eight provinces – Chon Buri, Trat, Rayong and Chanthaburi in the East, along with Chachoengsao, Nakhon Nayok, Sa Kaew and Prachin Buri – where waste contamination has been witnessed or reported.
Contamination in Phanom Sarakham district in Chachoengsao is so serious that a public health notice warns residents in tambon Nong Nae against drinking phreatic ground water, but there are a number of plants producing bottled water, plus fruit plantations in this tambon.
“Where is this water distributed to? And who is drinking it or eating these fruits?” he asked.
There are 17 major industrial estates in the eight provinces, and another eight are due to relocate to these areas as a result of the massive flood in 2011, Somnuek said. He cast doubt on the new plants’ treatment facilities for industrial discharges, whether normal or toxic, because of higher costs caused by the Bt300 daily minimum wage.
Sixty environmental groups or groups of affected residents have joined a network campaigning against illegal disposal of toxic waste. The network has also found another concern – companies subcontracted for the disposal or dumping of toxic wastes – that are frequently found to have illegally processed waste, or done it in violation of safety standards.
Another independent researcher, Phassawee Suwannarat, said the decentralisation of administration had caused lax enforcement of industrial safety standards, after local politicians took over from the central government and later imposed loose measures on waste disposal. Under a previous safety standard, strict measures and regulations were put in place in the national development plan, but these were rarely followed by local administrations.
A key condition under regulations is that waste must be mostly treated by factories, or within their compound, before the treated material can be transported for burial in well-entrenched dumpsites via a process that meets safety standards. But Phassawee said waste was hardly treated within compounds at present, before being transported to dumps. These sites were also dug illegally by disposal firms, and rarely checked, she said, in violation of safety standards.
The toxic discharges from substandard dumpsites into water sources, including the Bang Pakong River, were a much greater concern in the long run, she said.
In Ban Bung in Chon Buri, people living within a one-kilometre radius from a factory which discharged toxic chemicals had to be evacuated after nearby residents suffered rashes, headaches and dizziness. The elderly, pregnant women and sick people were the first to leave. One woman, aged 50, who asked not to be named, said she felt sorry for her 11-year-old niece, who had to put up with bad smells and headaches.
The woman said she planned to sell two vehicles her family owned and was prepared to leave the area, relying on the money from the two cars, if they can be sold.