EARTH Thailand

Cleaner air in Map Ta Phut

Bangkok Post 05 March 2009 | EDITORIAL

Belated though it is, the Rayong provincial administrative court's ruling on Tuesday that areas surrounding the Map Ta Phut industrial estate be declared a pollution control zone, is indeed welcome news. It represents a breeze of clean air not only for the 27 Map Ta Phut residents who took the case to court, but also for their neighbours who have for years been suffering from the toxic chemicals released into the environment by factories in the industrial estate.

By virtue of the court's ruling, the National Environment Board, one of the two defendants in the suit, is required to designate the following areas as a pollution control zone within 60 days: the whole Map Ta Phut municipality which includes tambon Nern Phra, tambon Map Kha and tambon Thap Ma of Muang district and tambon Ban Chang of Ban Chang district.

In making this landmark decision, the court cited findings of the Pollution Control Department which showed that 40 volatile organic compounds have been detected in the air in the Map Ta Phut areas with 20 of them carcinogenic and in amounts exceeding safety levels. The National Cancer Institute's study which was also cited by the court showed the cancer incidence rate in Rayong's Muang district during 1997-2001 was 3-5 times higher than that in other districts. Moreover, surface and underground water in the Map Ta Phut area was heavily contaminated with heavy metals such as nickel, copper, mercury and arsenic compound.

Despite the damning evidence cited by the court in support of its ruling, there are other disturbing findings confirming the worsening environmental and health hazards in the Map Ta Phut area. A study from Silpakorn University's science department in 2008 found genetic changes in frog and mussel samples collected from Takuan beach near the industrial estate.

While the court's ruling is seen as a rare triumph for all of us who yearn for a greener environment, cleaner air to breathe and uncontaminated water to drink, it is quite disturbing that there are some industrialists who feel the ruling might drive away potential investors from Thailand and tourists from Rayong. This alarmist attitude is total nonsense and unfounded. Instead, more tourists are likely to come here as they will feel safer because of stricter pollution controls. Socially responsible investors would be more willing to invest here. As well, do we need investors who only seek to make a profit and do not care if their industries spoil the environment or pose a health threat to the people?

The defendant in this case, the National Environment Board, has clearly failed in its responsibility to protect the public interest by not designating the areas around Map Ta Phut industrial estate as a pollution control zone. Of all the 17 pollution control zones in 12 provinces already declared by the board, none of them needs to be checked and monitored for toxic substances, according to the court.

To redeem its gross failure, it would be wise for the National Environment Board to follow the court order. Any attempt by the board to have the ruling appealed would only be seen as not protecting the public interest and further paint the board in a negative light in the eyes of the public.