Chemical bill needs push
Bangkok Post 06 July 2022
On Monday, an environmental conservation network submitted a letter to the House of Representatives to resubmit a "Pollutant Release and Transfer Register" (PRTR) bill after it was rejected last year by the cabinet.
The cabinet decided against backing the bill in June last year reasoning that it was financial legislature, and therefore needed more scrutiny by related ministries such as finance and industry.
That the ENLAWTHAI Foundation, Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand and Greenpeace Thailand, did not give up and pushed the envelope by re-submitting the proposed PRTR draft, endorsed by 10,000 signatures, is to be applauded.
That is because Thailand, especially communities situated near factories, seriously need this law. If mandated, factories will be obliged to reveal their chemical and hazardous substance inventories to communities.
Although this information must already be disclosed to the Department of Factories, that does little to help to bolster safety because the law does not force the government to reveal the data to the public.
That may explain the recurrence of seemingly preventable chemical accidents, a recent ghastly example of which was the notorious chemical accident at Ming Dhi chemical factory in Samut Prakan province 12 months ago, or the even more recent fire at a recycling factory in Ratchaburi on June 16. Going further back, there was also the tragic blaze at chemical depot at Kloey Toey Port in 1991, which killed 41 and left more than 1700 with serious health complaints, including allegations that the noxious smoke had caused cancers diagnosed in local residents years later.
According to the Pollution Control Department (PCD), there were 180 accidents related to chemicals and hazardous substances from 2017-2021. Of these, 93 of them occurred in factories, 41 during the transport of hazardous substances, 25 were blazes at illegal rubbish dumpsites and the rest at chemical and hazardous substance storage facilities. Some of these factories, storage and recycling factories and garbage dump sites are located near, or even inside, residential areas. Ming Dhi -- which at the time held 20,000 litres of styrene monomers is in the heart of one such community area.
The proposed PRTR law would be a game changer because it would give communities the right to vital information, and allow public participation in environmental policy decision-making.
According to the network, more than 50 countries have a PRTR system to effectively formulate environmental policies, determine emergency responses, monitor industrial sector compliance and enhance safety. PRTR provisions were enacted after the tragic chemical blaze at Union Carbide in Bopal in India.
The timing of the campaign is worth mentioning too as this week marks the anniversary of the Samut Prakan incident on July 5 last year. Triggered by styrene monomer leaks in the factory, the fire damaged more than 400 households, forcing the government to temporarily evacuate residents living within a 10-kilometre radius. Firefighters struggled for 28 hours to subdue the fire that came from styrene monomer supplies kept in underground containers. One firefighter died in the line of duty and many were injured, in part because they lacked an accurate blueprint of the factory and had little idea of the inventory inside.
We can only hope that our legislators, MPs and senators alike, will fast-track this crucial bill. With parliament currently rushing to read and pass crucial laws, it would do the country a great service if both houses could work together to make absolutely sure this is one that takes precedence.
Source: Editorial, Bangkok Post 6 July 2022 www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/2340352