Workers at construction sites within a 5-kilometre radius of the Ming Dih Chemical polysterene factory fire were prohibited from evacuating by military personnel following a government order to close construction sites as part of the current Covid-19 lockdown measures.
The fire at Ming Dih Chemical factory started at 3.00 on Monday (5 July)
Move Forward Party (MFP) MP Wanvipa Maison posted on her Twitter account at around 19.00 on Monday night (5 July) that she had been told that around 100 construction workers at a site within 5 km of the factory were being prohibited from evacuating by military personnel, who said they had to wait for their superiors to give permission before the workers can leave the site.
Wanvipa told Prachatai that she was informed of two construction worker camps near the factory which were not being evacuated. One camp was in Soi Ladkrabang 20/3, around 4 km from the factory, while another was in Soi Kingkaew 37/5, less than 2 km away. Each camp houses around 100 workers.
She said that local officials were not allowing the workers to evacuate, claiming that they need to receive permission from their superiors or an order relaxing the lockdown measure before they can allow the workers to leave.
Wanvipa said that Taweesak Taksin, another MFP MP, went to the scene to coordinate with officials in the area, but was told that military personnel were stopping the workers from leaving, saying that they can’t give permission without a superior’s order. MFP also contacted the authorities to ask for permission for the lockdown measures to be relaxed in order to get the workers to a safer area.
Under the current government restrictions, all construction work must pause. Construction sites will also be closed and workers are not allowed to leave their camps after several Covid-19 clusters were found in them.
Wanvipa posted on Twitter that she continued to receive reports of construction workers being prohibited from evacuating more camps. At around 23.00, she posted that she was contacted by an official from the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) who told her that the workers will not be moved, as experts have confirmed to the local district chief that there will be no more explosions and that the toxic fumes have already floated away with the wind, and therefore the workers are not in danger.
The official also asked her whether she was informed of toxic fumes in the area of the construction camps, as ISOC had not received any reports from officers stationed in the area.
The same official contacted her again after midnight, informing her that there was no need to evacuate the workers, as the fire had been brought under control.
At around 17.00 today (6 July), Wanvipa said that the workers are still not being allowed to evacuate, even though the fire has broken out again and was not brought under control until around 18.30.
45 injured, 1 dead in factory fire; foreman confirms chemical leakage
The fire at Ming Dih Chemical factory, producing plastic foam and plastic pellets and located in Soi Kingkaew, Bang Phli District, Samut Prakan, started following an explosion at around 3.00 on Monday (5 July). Residents within a 5-km radius of the factory were ordered to evacuate.
The fire department was finally able to control the flames at around 23.50 on Monday night (5 July). The fire was extinguished at around 5.00 this morning (6 July), over 24 hours after the initial explosion, after technicians from PTT OR joined the scene and firefighters were able to close the valves of the chemical tank. However, as of 19.00 today (6 July) Fire Department officials and volunteers are continuing to monitor the scene as there was still a risk of flare-ups.
The Reporters reported that factory foreman Sumet Mankhong said he was informed of a chemical leakage at around 2.00 on Monday (5 July). Once he arrived at factory, he noticed a chemical smell around the area, so he did not let workers inside the factory as it was too dangerous. The explosion then took place at 3.00.
Sumet said that the factory has one storage tank, which contained 1.6 million litres of chemical, which he said might have all been consumed in the fire. He said that 11 employees, along with their Taiwanese manager, were trapped on the second floor of the company building, and it took over 2 hours to evacuate them. Sumet himself was also injured following the explosion.
Sumet said that there has never been such an incident in the 30 years that the factory has been running, and that the factory was built before the nearby factories and housing developments. He said that the company is willing to compensate residents whose homes have been damaged, as well as the injured and dead.
The Bangkok Post reported that 12 volunteer firefighters and 33 others were injured in the fire, while one firefighter was killed after he was caught in a surge of flame from a chemical storage facility. 73 houses and 15 cars in surrounding communities were also damaged in the explosion.
Around 1900 residents in the area were evacuated. As of Tuesday night (6 July), they were still not able to return home due to toxic smoke.
Thailand needs a PRTR law, says EnLAW
The environmental and community rights NGO EnLAW Foundation said that the explosion and fire at the Ming Dih Chemical factory may have caused toxic chemicals to spread all over the area, putting members of the public at risk.
EnLAW also said that the incident reveals how little the public knows about the danger of chemical fumes, their effects, and why the evacuation is necessary, so they are unable to prepare themselves to safely handle the situation. It is also a reflection of how Thailand needs a Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) law, in order to create a database of information on the environment and dangerous chemicals.
The Foundation said that with a PRTR law, the public will be able to check whether any pollutant is being released into the environment in their communities, as factories will have to report to the Pollution Control Department what pollutants they have in their possession and how much has been released, and the report must be made public.
A PRTR law would also allow people to know the risk of pollutants and prepare themselves for any incident that may happen, and responsible agencies would be able to handle such incidents efficiently.
EnLAW said that a PRTR bill has been submitted to parliament, but it was interpreted as increasing the workload of the Pollution Control Department and therefore, as a bill with financial implications, it must first be approved by the Prime Minister, and no progress has been made so far in getting the bill approved.