Citizens from the Nong Phawa village community, Bang But subdistrict, Ban Khai district, Rayong Province, their legal representatives and NGO EARTH, arrived at the Rayong Provincial Court to file a lawsuit against Win Process Company Limited and two associated authority figures in the company. The company, which owns a hazardous waste processing and recycling factories in Nong Phawa, is being sued for releasing wastewater and toxic chemicals into local waterways, contaminating the soil and water locals use for their agricultural production. Aside from compensation for their losses, the villagers ask that the court hold the polluters accountable by cleaning up and paying for the restoration of the local environment to its original condition.
For many years, Win Process was engaged in the business of sorting, recycling and secretly dumping of hazardous wastes – without proper permits. After noticing foul smell, oddly-colored water and damages to plants, the locals campaigned to stop the company’s operation. In 2013 provincial authorities ordered Win Process to cease operation and remove hazardous wastes from the area. The company ignored this order, and continued to transport and hold hazardous wastes without permits. However, regulatory agencies such as the Department of Industrial Works failed to investigate and punish the company. After years of grueling advocacy, the villagers convinced government agencies to conduct environmental assessment in the area. The results show that the company had been releasing wastewater contaminated with acid and other pollutants into local waterways.
Tiab Smanmit, one of villagers suing the company lost 1450 Rubber plants and 20 rai of arable land. “We began to notice the impact since the establishment of the factory in 2010. It started with foul, unbearable smell coming from the factory. Later in 2013, we begin to see wastewater released from the factory into the public waterways and ponds. By 2017, the rubber plants near those water sources began to die and by 2020, swathes of rubber plants were completely gone. This is the result of the company’s release of wastewater. We have noticed the water changing in colors and smell. Farmlands and ponds became completely useless. Today, we still face hardships from these damages.”
Litte effort has been made by the company or government agencies to alleviate the suffering of the locals. Therefore, the villagers resorted to lawsuit in hopes of gaining some reparations that can alleviate their financial hardship. The lawsuit demands each of the villagers be compensated at the amount suitable to the damage they experienced. A total of 47 million baht is demanded, to be paid jointly by the defendants. In addition, the lawsuit demands the defendants restore the local environment to its original condition.
“Of all the things we hope to get out of this lawsuit, the most important is environmental restoration.” Sanit Maneesri, one of the villagers, elaborates. “We know that this won’t be easy, because the damage is so widespread and devastating. But we also believe that it is necessary to embark on this effort. This kind of damage, if not properly dealt with, will persist and continue to hurt our children and grandchildren. It is not enough to shut down the factory, because the pollution will remain and continue to devastate our community. The law must be invoked to hold the polluters responsible for restoration. This, above all, is our hope and expectation.”
Chamnan Sirirak, the environmental lawyer representing the villagers, explain how the Thai legal system still hinders environmental justice. “Environmental lawsuits still face significant obstacles that prevent the citizens from invoking their environmental rights. Throughout the process of launching an environmental suit, citizens are burdened with myriads of expenses, such as court fees. This is why despite the massive impact the pollution has had, not all of the locals joined the lawsuit. We would like authorities of the justice system to consider reducing expenses of these suits, in order to encourage more citizens to invoke their rights for environmental justice.”
Penchom Saetang, Director of EARTH, adds that the case may expose failings on the part of regulatory agencies. “There are reasons to suspect that government agencies, especially the Department of Industrial Works (DIW), have been negligent in monitoring Win Process. The company was allowed to conduct many of its operations for years without respective permits. Why were they not convicted for unlawful operations? Furthermore, they were in possession of a large quantity of hazardous waste, for which they could not produce a permit. Yet, the Rayong Provincial Industry Office waited for a long time to simply suspend its operation. Why did they take so long to act so little?”
Penchom further indicates that the Win Process case is only one aspect of a larger problem. “The discovery of hazardous waste in Win Process’ factory indicates that there are other factories that are sending them these wastes. These factories are operating with dangerous material, producing hazardous wastes and covertly sending it to Win Process. According to the law, the processing and transports of hazardous wastes should be transparently recorded and regulated. But this case illustrates that there is a wider, unseen network of factories in this region unlawfully transporting and processing hazardous wastes that can cause the kind of damage we see at Nong Phawa.”