EARTH Thailand

Panel finalises harmful industrial activities List

Bangkok Post 07 June 2010  

Map Ta Phut residents say safeguards still missing

RAYONG : The four-party panel working on solving Map Ta Phut's pollution problems has finalised a draft list of activities it considers harmful to the environment and public health.

The list covers 21 projects and activities, including power plants, the petrochemical industry, the steel industry, dam and water diversion projects, sea walls and the deep sea port.

Developments on wetlands of international importance - those recognised under the Ramsar convention - salt mining and infrastructure building in 25 watershed areas were also on the list.

The committee decided not to include golf courses, as had been proposed by some members, because of insufficient information about their environmental and health impact, said Thongchai Panswad, head of the panel's subcommittee charged with drafting the list.

The list aims to clarify which industrial activities should be covered by Section 67 of the 2007 constitution, which requires that agencies in charge of approving projects that could have an adverse effect on the environment or people's health must receive the approval of an independent advisory body before they can move forward.

"We have provided a flexible description for each project so that affected operators will feel more comfortable in complying with the regulations," Mr Thongchai said.

The draft list will be submitted to the National Environment Board, chaired by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, for consideration.

By completing the list, the four-party panel has now completed its task, said the panel's chairman, Anand Panyarachun.

Now it would depend on whether the government accepts the list, he told villagers and representatives of industry in Rayong attending a two-day meeting which ended yesterday.

Villagers affected by pollution, meanwhile, question if the list would really resolve the area's pollution problem as there were still no clear regulations to curb new heavy industrial development in the Map Ta Phut area.

"We haven't received any assurances that residents will be living in a clean and safe environment," said Charoen Dejkom, a 67-year-old villager from Koh Kok community. "It seems we still have to depend on ourselves to safeguard our community from new factories." Mr Charoen is one of 43 villagers who filed administrative charges against government agencies for bypassing constitutional requirements in endorsing industrial projects in the Map Ta Phut area. The court ruled last year to suspend 76 industrial projects. Many have since been allowed to go ahead with their plans.

Mr Anand said he was confident the new regulations combined with the list would improve the area's pollution problem.

"Our task is not to solve the old problems, but to prevent them from recurring," he said. "The industrial sector has become more open-minded. They are ready to work with local communities to solve the problem. I hope that both sides will develop mutual trust to work together."

Supat Wangwongwattana, chief of the Pollution Control Department, said 39 of 138 petrochemical and power plants in Rayong had agreed to install pollution-trapping devices worth over a combined 13.7 billion baht to cut emissions of toxic substances, including volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide, in the next three years.

He said air pollution was still the most challenging issue in Map Ta Phut. Recent air quality tests found a high level of benzene and 1.2 dichloroethane.