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Locals up in arms over toxic waste dumps

A village water source heavily contaminated by toxic leaks.

A village water source heavily contaminated by toxic leaks.

Toxic leaks at many garbage disposal sites in Chachoengsao province have upset nearby residents due to treatment methods that appear to be ineffective.

Locals have been kept anxious over whether - or when - two relevant agencies will employ appropriate measures to be put an end to their misery. The sites cause a strong and horrible stench, as well as fumes that cause rashes to people's skin. Leaks are also killing cattle and poultry at many villages in Phanom Sarakham and Plaeng Yao districts, where the 11 sites are located.

Water sources and farmland have been contaminated by a number of toxic substances, such as carcinogenic phenol at a level 30 times the safety limit. The 11 sites are located in northern areas of Chachoengsao, which on higher ground. This had resulted in contamination spreading to southern parts of the province, village leaders said. Toxic waste has secretly been discharged into water resources for more than seven years, but the situation was made worse by the dumping of a massive amount of waste at the sites in February, when locals began to voice alarm at adverse impacts they had endured.

The disposal of toxic waste prompted a number of rallies, and complaints were later lodged to authorities at the provincial level up to the central government, including the PM's Office Ministry and the Department of Special Investigation.

In one incident in February, villagers confronted a convoy of trucks queuing to dump waste, and seized two vehicles, which they took to a police station.

Pig breeder Duangduen Srimalai said his animals suffered regular miscarriages, which resulted in only four to five piglets surviving instead of 15-20. Fish in many farms have also died in large numbers. And rubber trees also yielded much lesser milk, said tapper Lamun Klinnuch, who noted that many tappers had moved because they couldn't stand the stench from the waste dumps.

A retiree, Manas Sawasdee, who owns a rubber plantation and a fish farm, said rubber productivity had dropped nearly 100 per cent and his fish mostly died. He said a mango plantation near one dump site that exports fruit could be affected in the future, if importers know about the toxic leaks or detect contamination in the mangoes.

KSD Recycle Co Ltd, which operates the garbage disposal, rents land plots of various sizes and turns them into huge craters. The toxic waste is dumped in these and they are covered temporarily with clay, while treatment gets underway at one site at a time - a method which the Pollution Control Department (PCD) disputes.

PCD director-general Wichean Jungrungrueng said this method of treatment would only expand contamination and leaks would keep seeping underground and leave nearby villagers in agony. Treatment at individual sites was required for lengthy periods.

This method is only done, however, once it is endorsed by the Department of Industrial Works, which has its own regulations.

A senior DIW official, Sawai Rojjanasupphareuk, said the department was evaluating the treatment method performed by Siam West Service Co Ltd, a subsidiary of KSD. These firms are reported to have turned down offers for solutions and contracts from other waste companies nominated earlier by village leaders and local administrative bodies.

Sawai said the capacity of treatment at the Chachoengsao sites had to be increased to speed up the process - and done in parallel at all other sites. "All liquid waste and garbage mass must also be treated before they are dumped permanently somewhere else," he stressed. Siam Waste Service Co would be replaced by a new company if it was unable to follow this method, he said, without giving details on a timeframe. Sawai also welcomed a joint inspection of the method by the PCD.

Siam Waste Service manager Weerawan Saisuwan said small cells needed to be built at one large disposal site before treatment was conducted at individual cells, because it was safer for workers. But the operation should not last longer than two months.

Health threat

Without proper treatment, garbage disposal at 11 sites in Chachoengsao province is producing a strong stench and fumes. Also, a number of toxic substances are contaminating water sources and farmland. Polluted water tested in August by Testtech Co found they contained carcinogenic or toxic chemicals 20-30 times above the safety limits. They include:

Phenol 29.14mg/L (Limit: 1mg/L)

Zinc 31.16mg/L (Limit: less than 5mg/L)

Copper 3.53mg/L (Limit: less than 2mg/L)

Chromium 1.66mg/L (Limit: less than 0.75mg/L)




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