By Pratch Rujivanarom
On World Environmental Day yesterday, EARTH released a report on pollution in Thailand in 2015 and 2016, exposing serious problems at the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong, unresolved issues at gold mines in Phichit and Loei, and ongoing environmental conflicts related to waste management and coal-fired power plant projects.
Atthapon Rittichart, a technical officer with EARTH, said people around the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate were suffering from high amounts of toxic substances in the environment, with many pollution-monitoring stations detecting high amounts of volatile organic compounds beyond safe levels, leading to extraordinarily high rates of cancer.
Atthapon also said people living near gold mines in Phichit and Loei still had to live with high rates of heavy metal contamination in the environment and could not consume food and water produced locally.
Meanwhile, the report showed that over the past two years, there were 35 landfill fires, 22 reported incidents of illegal industrial waste dumping, and 11 oil spills in Thai waters.
EARTH director Penchom Saetang said such problems demonstrated many flaws in Thailand’s environmental protection system, which resulted in unresolved environmental problems and the burgeoning of new problems related to the failure to stem pollution.
“From the environmental problems we have noticed over the past two years, we have found that the authorities’ end-of-pipe approach to tackle environmental issues is causing problems, as they wrongly believe that the technology can solve every issue and action can be taken only when the problem already exists,” Penchom said.
She added that agencies that promoted industrial investment, the Industrial Works Department and the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand had a duty to monitor projects and punish operators who did not follow environmental regulations.
However, those entities cared more about promoting investment and often ignored their role to investigate environmental law violations and to punish those who violated the rules.
“These issues make our existing problems worse and a lot of people suffer. Not only the original issues remain unresolved, the government also promotes a new wave of industrial investment, which will further harm the environment and people’s wellbeing,” she said.
Penchom urged the government to take a precautionary approach when dealing with pollution control and reform environmental laws.