Toxic smog alert near garbage fire

national March 19, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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TOXIC SMOG from a landfill in Samut Prakan is threatening the health of both local residents and people working nearby - and officials believe the fire could burn for another five days.

Caretaker Industry Minister Prasert Boonchaisuk has threatened to file charges against the operator of the landfill. He said details from the provincial industry office showed the 150-rai dump was operated by Kromphol Samutsakhon, under a licence that expired in 2011.

“The operator is liable to charges related to the Factory Act BE2535,” Prasert said. He added that if the operator was found guilty, punishment included both a jail term and a fine. 

The Public Health Ministry has declared 500 metres on all sides of the site as a “red zone”. The amount of sulphur dioxide was more than 5 parts-per-million (ppm), well over the designated standard of 0.2 ppm. All residents in the zone are being asked to evacuate. 
While evacuation is underway for residents - firemen, officials and reporters are braving the pollution to carry out their duties. There was speculation that industrial waste from Bang Pu Industrial Estate was dumped at the site. As a result, when the fire broke out on Sunday, it created smoke dangerous to nearby citizens. 
Samut Prakan public-health chief Namphol Danpipat said yesterday that people living within 200 metres of the site, as well as firemen or anyone with long exposure to the smog must undergo a medical check. 
He said that if the results looked disturbing, these people might also be subject to cancer-risk tests. 
“In addition to locals, firemen and reporters on the spot should get health checks at the Samut Prakan Hospital,” Pollution Control Department (PCD) director-general Wichian Jungrungreon said. 
The Public Health Ministry has already declared the area within a 1-kilometre radius of the landfill, outside the “red zone”, a “yellow zone”. 
“Pregnant women, babies, elderly people and people with chronic ailments such as heart diseases should get out of the yellow zone,” Namphol said. He said areas beyond the 1-km radius were considered “green zones”. 
“People in the green zones should react as they see appropriate,” Namphol said. 
Yesterday, smog seemed to ease in the morning and early afternoon. Compared with the situation on Monday, locals reported a less intense smell and reduced smog. 
However, by late afternoon, even people living in Bang Na district could see the smog clearly and experience the strong smell. 
According to the PCD, air-quality tests at a spot one kilometre from the landfill site showed there were as many as 354 micrograms of small dust particles, or PM10 per cubic metre of air. 
“This is three times higher than the safe limit of 120 micrograms,” Wichian said. Such a level of PM10 could be very dangerous, especially to people with respiratory diseases. “These dust particles can deposit in their lungs and cause cancer risks,” he explained. 
Samut Prakan Governor Kanit Ieamrahong said efforts to extinguishing the fire at the site were progressing well. 
“We have received help from various authorities. We even have helicopters spraying water down from above,” he said. But he believed it would take five more days to completely put the blaze out. 
Kontanya Chormali, the owner of a goods factory in Samut Prakan, said he had closed his facility down for three days already because of the threatening smog. 

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