EARTH Thailand

Regulations are useless if they are not enforced

The Nation 10 May 2012 | EDITORIAL

The weekend explosion at Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate shows that safety concerns are still being taken too lightly by the govt and authorities. 

The accident at Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate last weekend is unfortunate indeed. The explosion should have been preventable but it happened because of industries’ carelessness and lax enforcement by the responsible authorities.

It is a shame that once again we have to raise the question of whether we really learn the lessons of such tragedies. There have been a series of chemical-related accidents at Map Ta Phut, and no doubt this latest one will not be the last. 

Every time we see an incident like this, it receives strong public attention and is treated with great concern by officials and responsible agencies, who say they will strengthen supervision to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. But after the accident fades from the news, industries and authorities become less and less enthusiastic and less stringent about observing rules and regulations, leading to more preventable incidents. 

The fatal explosion and fire at the BST Elastomers’ facility, a subsidiary of Bangkok Synthetics, in Rayong province, has killed 11 people and injured many others. It is especially unfortunate that it comes only a few years after a high-profile accident at the country’s largest petrochemical complex in 2009, which later prompted local residents to file a petition with the Central Administrative Court. The petition asked the court to suspend 76 industrial projects in Map Ta Phut by citing these factories’ failure to observe adequate safety standards.

This fresh incident will create more mistrust and bad feeling among local people, who already feel unsafe living in the neighbourhood. Legislation to create an independent body to oversee the environment and the problem of industrial pollution has yet to be launched. The authorities and industries on the site will have to demonstrate improved safety measures and procedures to prove that they can co-exist with local communities.

BST Elastomers is not the only facility prone to accident. Chemical leakage and other environmental pollution can happen at any time at any of the country’s 3,000 factories. The government also acknowledges that in Map Ta Phut alone, there are around 65 factories where accidents could happen at any time, unless adequate prevention measure are put in place.

This issue has to be sorted out once and for all if the Thai government still wants to keep petrochemical complexes operating as a source of earning for the country. The failure to ensure safety will only turn public opinion further against the industries already at Map Ta Phut.

The recent decision by Japan to review its nuclear power plants after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March last year should serve as an example. If the public feels that our safety regulations and procedures are not adequate, then it is imperative for the government and the responsible agencies to address the issue in a straightforward and sincere manner.

People will feel it is not worthwhile to maintain such sites if industries cannot coexist peacefully with local communities. People are certainly questioning whether the country is fully equipped to deal with the consequences that certain industrial operations can lead to. 

Adequate safety preparation is not only limited to technological matters but also the legal infrastructure, the straightforward enforcement of the regulations and the conscience of investors and the public in general.

After all, pollution caused by industrial estates is of universal concern to all of us. Apart from the casualties on site, accidents can affect air quality, waterways and cause long-term health impact on local people. If this issue is not adequately addressed, it will turn public opinion against industries. Not every flaw can be remedied by money alone.