300 villagers in northern Thailand severely ill allegedly due to mine

Villagers from three provinces in the lower north of Thailand have urged the Thai authorities and a mining company to provide compensation and remedial measures after the authorities found heavy metals in the villagers’ blood.  

Around 300 villagers in Phichit, Phitsanulok, and Phetchabun, three provinces in the lower northern region of Thailand, who live near a mine operated by Akara Resources Public Company Limited on the border of the three provinces, are now seriously ill, the report said.

After the Department of Primary Industries and Mines (DPIM) found that the villagers’ blood samples were contaminated with heavy metals at levels of high risk, it last week ordered the mine to close down temporarily.

Suekanya Teerachatdamrong, an activist from northern Thailand, and around 30 villagers last Friday submitted a petition to Surapong Chiangthong, the Director-General of DPIM, to urge the authorities to compensate and provide medical assistance to the villagers.

Suekanya and the villagers stressed that according to Articles 131, 131/1, and Section 11/1 which dictates the responsibilities of mining operators in the 1967 Mining Act, the company must assist and provide guarantees to offset the health risks for villagers affected by the mines.    

Moreover, the activist added that they suspect that the company has not really stopped mining operations.

“We are not sure if the company has really stopped [mining] in accordance with the DPIM order because we can’t check this, but it seems like they are still operating. This is why we have to complain to the DPIM both about the budget to help the villagers and to check on the company after the order was issued,” said Suekanya.

The activist added that in December 2014 the DPIM issued an order to the company to take responsibility for the people and environment affected by the mining operations, but so far nothing has been done.

The villagers who work in the mine have become seriously ill from the mining. One was admitted to hospital and was discharged after a day because he could not afford the treatment.

So far, the Forensic Science Institute under Rangsit University has examined 700 villagers for heavy metals, but 6000 more need to be checked.

Suvit Kulapwong, General-Secretary of the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD) Isan (Thailand’s northeast), commented that the DPIM’s measure to halt mining operations in the affected areas was done only for the DPIM’s own sake to cover up its ignorance and that the DPIM should do its job in taking legal action against the company.

“The DPIM should reconsider the process of giving concessions to the mining business because it clearly shows that in the past the process was very negligent. Looking back on an important issue, the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), has never provided answers to the adverse environmental problems,” said Suvit.

He added that the mines underwent both an EIA and Environmental Health Impact Assessment (EHIA). However, they still failed to offset the true environmental and social costs from the mine.  

The Law Reform Commission of Thailand (LRCT) has drafted a new mining bill with civil society which will be open for discussion by the public and relevant government agencies on 22 and 23 January 2015 respectively.

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