Heavy metals in water - serious pollution concentration found near industrial areas in Thailand

5.6.2017 - BANGKOK
Industrial areas in Thailand are source of hazardous limits of toxic pollution
Photo: Jindrich Petrlik, Arnika

Environmentalists revealed that the industrial pollution has become more intensified in these two years. Sediments of water sources near the industrial areas contain high concentrations of heavy metals. State agencies are urged to step in with the surveillance measures, and some areas must have urgent plans for water source rehabilitation and protection.

Ecological Alert and Recovery-Thailand (EARTH) along with scientists from the ARNIKA Association, Czech Republic, held a press conference titled "An Overview of Industrial Pollution 2015-2016 and the Findings of Heavy Metals in Sediments of 8 Provinces" at the Crystal Room 2 to 4, Century Park Hotel, Ratchaprarop Road, Bangkok. Here, the scientists revealed the findings of the overall situation regarding industrial pollution in Thailand during 2015-2016. They shared their studies on heavy metal contamination on surface water sources near the industrial development zones of 8 provinces in Thailand: Samut Prakarn, Samut Sakhon, Rayong, Chachoengsao, Prachinburi, Saraburi, Khon Kaen and Loei.

Penchom Tang, Director of EARTH, asserts that the overall situation of the industrial pollution in Thailand remains severe, even though the government has announced the policy to maintain the security of natural resources and to balance the conservation and sustainable use. The policy aims to tackle this issue urgently both across the country and in specific areas such as Map Ta Phut region in Rayong Provicne.

The government has previously announced waste disposal as an urgent part of the national agenda. During 2015-2016, the industrial pollution situation in Map Ta Phut remained serious and seemed likely to intensify in the future. This issue shares similiarities with the problem of the carcinogenic Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which contaminate in the air, accumulated in seawater, and frequently cause unnatural deaths for large numbers of marine animals. Meanwhile, the promotion of waste-to-energy facilities which will construct almost 50 power plants nationwide by exempting the projects from the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process and City Planning Law has subsequently led to the conflicts. Over the past two years, around 30 communities nationwide have risen up against the construction of waste-to-energy power plants. Some affected local people have been intimidated by the project supporters or even the state officials.

Director of EARTH also pointed out that there must be environmental management standards to solve the problems of communities which suffer from air pollution, water pollution, and industrial hazardous waste. These are problems in almost every industrial area such as industrial estate and zone. The small and medium size factories still lack of successful environmental management systems. In addition, the problems in some areas are caused by the state agencies. For example, the Department of Industrial Works (DIW) and the Provincial Industry Offices are unable to monitor and inspect thoroughly, lack the seriousness to regulate, and fail to ensure the factories to comply with environmental protection measures which are legally mandated as environmental impact mitigation measures from the EIA report.

Openly accessed data needed
Moreover, most people are still lack of knowledge to argue with the factories. They cannot get access to the information on the pollutants released into environment since Thailand does not have the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) legislation to ensure the factories report and disclose pollutant information to public. At the same time, the promotion of the green industry seems to be an image building policy and rather nominal. It can be seen as an attempt to avoid conflict with communities. It does not always show accountability to environmental health prevention and toxic chemical reduction in regards public safety.  Overall, Thailand still faces a lack of good governance and transparency in industrial pollution management. There are few enforcement measures, and industry does not take responsibility for the environment in most cases. 

Therefore, if the government wants to achieve sustainable development goals, there is a need for comprehensive reform of environmental legislations such as the EIA/EHIA system and mechanism. This must happen in order to formulate and implement the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR Law) which would force polluters to pay for environmental inspection and post EIA monitoring/auditing system of their industrial plants which would promote transparency and efficiency. It is important for the state to strike a balance between economic and industrial investment with respect to the protection of natural resources, environment, and human health, said Director of EARTH.

Marek Šír, an expert from the University of Chemistry and Technology, Czech Republic, has revealed the results of heavy metal contamination in surface water's sediments near industrial sites in 8 provinces in Thailand. The study, conducted in February 2016, was a collaboration between EARTH, ARNIKA Association, and the University of Chemistry and Technology, Czech Republic. It was supported by the European Union (EU).

The findings of each study in 8 provinces indicate several heavy metal substances exceeded the “Sediment Quality Criteria for the Protection of Benthic Organisms," when compared with the Pollution Control Department's Draft Notification on the Sediment Quality Criteria for Freshwater Sources. There are 4 provinces that found high concentration of several heavy metals for which the state should issue urgent measures to mitigate: (1) Wang Saphung district, Loei province, around the gold mining area, high concentration in sediments of arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd) and copper (Cu) were discovered; (2) Map Ta Phut area, Rayong province where situated with many petrochemical and related industry facilities, coal-fired power plants, oil and gas refineries, has found high levels of mercury (Hg), cadmium (Cd), zinc (Zn), arsenic (As) and copper (Cu). Cadmium (Cd) is also found in coastal sediments near the IRPC Industrial Zone in Rayong province; (3) Muang district, Samut Sakhon province, which has a large number of foundries and mills, and large and medium sized of recycle factories, has found high levels of arsenic (As), lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu) and nickel (Ni); (4) Tha Tum subdistrict, Prachinburi province, which has many coal-fired power plants, and various types of industries which created high levels of arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr) and copper (Cu). Heavy metals are highly correlated with industrial pollutions in the area.

 

This article was prepared and published as a part of the project “Increasing Transparency in Industrial Pollution Management through Citizen Science” funded by the European Union (EU) and co-funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic within the Framework of the Transition Promotion Programme – a financial assistance programme supporting democracy and human rights using the Czech Republic’s experience with social transition and democratization.

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