Plan of action being studied, after long wait for courts to order help
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Despite hope that the Supreme Court will issue a final verdict ordering the Pollution Control Department (PCD) and relevant agencies to clean up their lead-contaminated creek, residents of Lower Klity in Kanchanaburi are now trying to get their lives back to normal and looking for ways to clean the stream themselves.
Environmental activists and experts have teamed up to help villagers rehabilitate the contaminated small river, which is like an artery for their lives. But villagers will supply the manpower needed to restore the creek.
“We have no time to wait for the creek to naturally recover as villagers need water to survive,” Weerawat Theeraprasart from the Foundation for Ecology Recovery said.
The creek recovery team is made up of environmental activists and experts from Naresuan University, Greenpeace and the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion.
“We are now ready to help villagers clean their tainted creek,” he said.
Ply Pirom, campaign manager of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said there were three steps to help the contaminated creek recover.
First, a team will ask villagers to directly dredge tainted sediment in the creek and take it elsewhere for treatment. Second, they can dredge a canal by the creek to temporarily drain all water from it – to enable them to remove tainted sediment under the creek. Thirdly, they can try to use chemical substances to freeze the tainted sediment to prevent contamination across the stream if the first and the second options don’t work.
“We are working to measure the density of sediment in the creek to learn how to dredge the creek properly,” Ply said.
However, Weerawat said a team would propose methods to the PCD to help the creek recover and local villagers would seek extra advice before they go proceed. “The plan to ‘repair’ the creek must follow academic principles,” he said.
The 19-kilometre-long Klity Creek was polluted by a lead-treatment factory run by Lead Concentrate Co in 1967 and forced to shut down in 1998.
Local villagers like Pracha Arunsrisuwan had to avoid using water from the stream and not eat fish or other animals from it.
They have to store rainwater in a concrete tank for drinking for a whole year and use a mountain water supply for daily chores such as bathing, washing dishes and clothes, and gardening. Some of them continue to eat fish and other aquatic animals from the creek even though the PCD found high levels of lead contamination in crab, shellfish and shrimp.
“We need the food to survive,” said Pracha, a 48-year-old corn farmer.
In 2008, the 151 villagers lodged a complaint at the Administrative Court against the PCD over its slow response to the contamination of Klity Creek. The Supreme Administrative Court is looking into that case.
After the PCD found in 1998 that the creek was contaminated, it built a rock check-dam to screen out lead sediment and allow the creek to recover naturally. It said dredging the creek would have a negative impact and spread the lead-tainted sediment along the river.
The PCD said people could consume water from the creek but would have to purify and boil it first to kill germs before drinking it. The department suggested that people should not eat fish and other aquatic animals from the tainted river such as crab, shellfish and shrimp.
To get their lives back to normal, Pracha, who was diagnosed with lead in his blood five years ago, agreed with Weerawat and Ply that the creek should be “fixed”.
“It’s been long enough. We have been waiting for assistance from the PCD to rehabilitate the tainted creek for 14 years but nothing had been done. It is time for us to do it by ourselves,” he said.
“Villagers need clean, safe and affordable water for their lives,” he added, sitting on a wooden chair in his kitchen and waiting for his daughter to cook breakfast.
Local residents in Lower Klity village have started talking with each other about ways to restore the tainted river by themselves.
Sompong Thongphachailai, 48, said they would dredge and remove the lead-contaminated sediment by themselves without waiting for assistance from the PCD, so they could use water from the creek as soon as possible.
“The problem [was brought to officials’ attention] almost 14 years ago, but nothing had been resolved. We have to help ourselves,” he said.