EARTH Thailand

HIA guidelines by end of month

The Nation 25 December 2009 | Piyanart Srivalo, Pongphon Sarnsamak

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry will issue its regulations on health-impact assessments by the end of this month.

These will be used to enable the suspended Map Ta Phut industrial projects to comply with Article 67 of the Constitution.

The National Environmental Board (NEB) yesterday approved the final draft of HIA and public hearing guidelines as proposed by a government appointed committee tasked with resolving problems of industrial schemes in Rayong's Map Ta Phut area.

A total of 65 projects remain suspended by the Supreme Administrative Court for failure to comply with Article 67, which requires all large industrial schemes to prepare HIAs.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti said owners of the 65 halted schemes would be invited to a briefing next week on HIAs and related guidelines.

Under these guidelines, HIAs must be conducted by health professionals in the fields of epidemiology, toxicology, community medicine, environmental sanitation, environmental health, occupational health, occupational medicine and life sciences.

HIAs must cover health threats such as noise pollution, heat, radioactivity, dust, hazardous substances and waste, as well as volatile organic compound emissions and mental health threats.

Project owners and consultants must also seek community and public participation in obtaining recommendations and solutions to potential health and environmental problems before HIAs are approved.

Public hearings must be held involving all stakeholders, with public announcements at least 15 days prior to the hearings. Community representatives must also be given a chance to voice their opinions during the public hearings.

Meanwhile, the four party panel chaired by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun to resolve the Map Ta Phut problems will propose that an independent organisation to review environmental impact and HIAs be set up under the Prime Minister's Office.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who chaired yesterday's NEB meeting, said another five or six suspended projects in the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate could soon be allowed to proceed.

The Supreme Administrative Court has already lifted its injunction on one of the 65 projects.

In a related development, Suthi Atchasai, leader of the Eastern People's Network, has submitted a petition asking the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to investigate the damage to residents near the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate.

He alleged a group of influential people had pressured 10 local residents to withdraw their lawsuits against companies in the estate from the Supreme Administrative Court.

Suthi quoted DSI chief Tharit Pengdit as saying the process to accept the case would be accelerated.

Vice Industry Minister Sorayud Petchtrakul said Industry Minister Charnchai Chairungrueng had assigned the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand to study the court's consideration of the Siam Yamato Steel case.

"We must find out why the court allowed Siam Yamato Steel's project to proceed, and then we'll report this to the government. In addition, we'll also use this information to support other suspended projects, which is preparing to ask the court for resuming," he said.

Sorayud said some people still worried about the suspension of upstream projects.

"Even though some projects will be allowed to move forward, they still need feedstock from the upstream projects, such as the sixth gas separation plant. If those upstream projects are not resumed, the mid to downstream projects will probably hesitate to continue their investment, because of the higher production costs that would then be involved," he said.