EARTH Thailand

Mercury Found in Fish and Residents near Coal Power Plant and Paper Pulp Mill

Prachatai 10 January 2013 | Ecological Alert and Recovery – Thailand

Citizens Demand PCD, DIW Stop Using Human Bodies as Pollution Monitoring Device

January 9, 2013 (Bangkok) – Researchers found mercury accumulation in fish and people high above safety levels in Prachinburi’s largest industrial area in eastern Thailand. More than 60 residents travelled to the capital to submit pleas for the Pollution Control Department and Department of Industrial Works to fix pollution problem before it is too late.

Results from a study of common snakehead (“pla shawn”) fish tissue and hair samples collected near a coal-fired power plant and a paper and pulp mill in Tha Tum rural municipality, Srimahaphot district, Prachinburi province revealed that mercury has contaminated the food chain and human bodies. According to Jutamas Suppradid, researcher at Ecological Alert and Recovery – Thailand (EARTH), the study found all fish samples (100%) contaminated with mercury beyond Thai food standards. The Ministry of Public Health allows for no more than 0.02 ppm of mercury in food. Fish tissue samples from this study were found to be contaminated with 0.067-0.22 ppm of mercury, or 3 to 11 times above safe food standards.

Results of hair samples collected from residents who consume local fish and live within 2 kilometers of the industrial complex revealed that all volunteers (100%) have mercury in their hair above the reference dose of 1.00 ppm. Scientific evidence shows that above 1.00 ppm of mercury can cause danger to brain function. This study found a range of 1.628 - 12.758 ppm of mercury in the hair of Tha Tum residents.

Approximately 90 percent of mercury in the human body is methymercury, a highly toxic form of mercury that can accumulate in living beings, transfer from mother to child during pregnancy, persist in the environment and cannot be destroyed. Possible channels for mercury to enter fish and residents in Tha Thum, the location of this study, range from fly ash from the coal power plant, coal dust from the outdoor coal storage piles, ash from the coal power plant which is spread over eucalyptus plantations in the area, and the possible leak of mercury-contaminated wastewater from nearby paper and pulp mill to the public canal.

“As a resident with a high level of mercury in my body, I want relevant government agencies to monitor pollution before it enters our bodies. Don’t let factories conduct business however they want. Don’t leave citizens to fend for ourselves. Our bodies are being used as pollution monitoring devices,” said Somboon Patcharapaiboon, village head of Moo 3, Tha Tum, Srimahaphot, Prachinburi province. He travelled to Bangkok with about 60 residents also affected by industrial pollution in Srimahaphot, Kabinburi, Srimahosot and Muang districts of Prachinburi province and Phanom Sarakham district of Chachoengsao province. Residents, Friends of the East Network, and Change the East citizen group submitted formal pleas to government agencies to fix current pollution problems before expanding industrial areas in the eastern region of Thailand.

Wichian Jungrungruang, Pollution Control Department (PCD) Director-General, received the citizens’ letter personally and promised to send PCD officials to inspect the situation. In the same day, Department of Industrial Works (DIW) Acting Director-General Pongthep Jaru-ampornpan received the citizens’ letter and promised to send officials to inspect the area and set up an inspection committee. Residents of Prachinburi and Chachoengsao requested citizen participation throughout the process.

“We would like relevant authorities to use results of this study to fix the problem of pollution in Tha Tum and other areas,” said EARTH Director Penchom Saetang. “Do not forget that this is a warning from nature. If we listen to the warning, large problems can become small. If we can solve this problem, communities will not resist industrialization. Do not leave this problem to fester beyond repair.”

This study is a collaboration between EARTH and International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), collecting 460 fish and hair samples in 29 countries to examine mercury pollution sources, which include coal-fired power plants and paper and pulp mills. Results will be used to accompany Mercury Treaty negotiations, which Thai government representatives will join in Geneva, Switzerland on January 13-18.