EARTH Thailand

Opposition re-emerges to Map Ta Phut projects

The Nation 08 May 2012  

The Eastern People's Network plans to file lawsuits against Bangkok Synthetics over the fatal explosion and fire at its subsidiary BST Elastomers' facility in Rayong's Map Ta Phut area on Saturday, in a move that strengthens industrialists' fears over

The network is also calling for the operating licence of Aditya Birla Chemicals to be withdrawn following a chemical leak at its Map Ta Phut factory on Sunday. 

Suthi Atchasai, leader of the Eastern People’s Network, said yesterday that a meeting with Map Ta Phut villagers would be held tomorrow to sound out their opinions about the filing of lawsuits.

“The company’s [Bangkok Synthetics] directors and executives must be held fully responsible for this,” he said, adding that the incident was the result of non-compliance with safety measures, which had rocked investor confidence and caused pain and suffering among the families of the dead.

The network was previously successful in grabbing national and international attention when it and the Stop Global Warming Association brought a case before the Administrative Court, resulting in a year-long suspension of 76 industrial projects in Map Ta Phut a few years ago. 

To help the industrial sector, the then-Abhisit Vejjajiva-led government had to respond to their demands, including the establishment of an Independent Health and Environmental Committee as well as the introduction of further safety measures. 

The case for the first time marked local people’s open dissent over industrial development in their communities.

Veerapon Puangpitayavut, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries in Rayong, said he was concerned that the two serious accidents at Rayong-based industrial estates over the weekend were threatening to revive locals’ strong opposition to large-scale industrial projects.

“In fact, the conflict between factories and local communities had eased for more than two years. But the recent incidents could change all that,” he said.

On Saturday, an explosion and large fire erupted at the BST Elastomers factory inside the Map Ta Phut industrial estate, leading to 11 deaths and 129 others being injured.

The following day, a chemical leak occurred at the Aditya Birla Chemicals plant inside the Hemaraj Eastern Industrial Estate (Map Ta Phut), leading to the hospitalisation of 138 people. 

Thirteen of those affected by the leak were still receiving hospital treatment as of press time. 

“I am concerned that people may lose confidence in preventative measures taken by factories,” Weerapon said.

He believes business owners must review their measures in a bid to boost public confidence in their ability to prevent further harmful incidents. 

Both Bangkok Synthetics and Aditya Birla Chemicals have been involved in life-threatening accidents before.

“It’s clear that safety plans and all measures available now are not adequate. When accidents erupt, they don’t really help. It took so long for the news of the accidents to reach people,” said Sumet Nacharoen, a resident living near an industrial estate in Rayong. The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand has now suspended the operations of the two factories where the weekend’s accidents occurred. Investigations are also ongoing to determine the causes. 

Meanwhile, the Council of Work and Environment Related Patients Network of Thailand yesterday issued a statement demanding the government immediately inspect factories with hazardous chemicals and ensure that genuinely adequate safety standards are in place.

It also listed many other demands for the better protection of workers, who are often vulnerable to occupational hazards. 

“A fund for victims of occupational hazards and pollution should be established,” the statement said.

The Thai Labour Solidarity Commit-tee yesterday also urged the authorities to ensure safety for all workers. The committee said Public Health Ministry records showed more than 200,000 factory workers fall ill or are injured or maimed at their workplaces every year. Moreover, about 800 others die each year.

“We hope the government will think more about workers’ occupational safety,” the organisation said.

Its representatives will meet Labour Minister Phadermchai Sasomsap on Thursday to raise concerns about the latest accidents at the Rayong industrial estates, and also to submit demands for the better protection of workers’ rights.