EARTH Thailand

Unsafe mercury levels found

The Nation 10 January 2013 | PONGPHON SARNSAMAK

Group to inform UN conference of contaminated fish, human hair samples

A civic group will submit to the United Nations a report showing that fish in a river in Prachin Buri, and hair samples taken from villagers living nearby, contain high levels of mercury believed to come from an industrial park in the province.

The group plans to submit the report to a UN conference on mercury contamination in Geneva next week. The conference is aimed at encouraging government agencies around the world to strengthen measures to control contamination caused by factories.

“All human-hair and fish samples collected from the site near the industrial park in Prachin Buri were tainted with mercury at a high level that exceeded safety standards,” said Penchom Sae-Tang, director of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (EARTH), who led the research team that compiled the report.

She was speaking at a news conference at the Thai Journalists Association to launch the report on mercury contamination of the environment. The report will be submitted to the fifth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC5) to prepare a global legally binding instrument on mercury, which will be held in Geneva from January 13-18.

The seven-page report was conducted by a team of researchers from EARTH and its networks last year to estimate the level of mercury contamination in the environment and in people in Thailand.


They collected 20 samples of common snakehead fish and 20 hair samples from villagers living in tambon Tha Tum, which is near the large industrial complex in Prachin Buri’s Sri Maha Pho district. The site consists of 75 factories in an area of 12 square kilometres.

Penchom explained that human hair was widely accepted as a matrix for reliable estimation of the body burden of methylmercury. The UN Environment Programme’s Global Mercury Assessment, meanwhile, noted that mercury was present in fish all over the globe at a level that adversely affected humans and wildlife, she added.

EARTH’s study found 0.53 milligram of mercury per kilogram in snakehead fish samples, which exceeds the standard set by the Public Health Ministry. Under this standard, the level of mercury in food should not exceed 0.02mg/kg.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stipulates that the level of mercury in food should not exceed 0.22mg/kg.

The study found that the mercury level in the hair samples was 12mg/kg, which exceeds the EPA’s contamination level of 1mg/kg for human hair. Thai authorities have yet to establish a standard for mercury contamination in human hair.

EARTH suspected the high level of mercury contamination was likely caused by fly ash (a by-product of the combustion process) and wastewater released by a coal-fired power plant and pulp-and-paper mill at the nearby industrial park.

“This report reflects the fact that industrialisation in a developing country like Thailand still causes problems for local people. This problem needs to be addressed urgently by the relevant agencies,” she said.