One year Ming Dih factory fire - time to for Thailand to have PRTR law
EARTH REPORT 05 July 2022
The image of deadly scarlet flame and dark plumes of smoke billowing in the sky, brings to mind the haunting smell of chemicals and plastic that continuously burned for two days in July 2021.
The image was seared into the minds of many in Samut Prakan Thailand on July 5th, 2021, after a plastic factory exploded in the middle of a community area. The fire was not put out for days. More than 30 were injured. One firefighter passed away.
The morning that the fire raged, many Thais heard fir the first time the chemical Styrene Monomer. It was a flammable substance that was stored in large amount for plastic manufacturing. The burning of this toxic substance produce deadly air pollutants. The evacuation of people within 5 km of the fire saved many lives. But the firefighter who braved the flame did not know what chemicals were stored inside the factory, and fell victim to a second round of fire caused by an hitherto unknown set of styrene storage.
More than one day was spent finding point of leakage. Then the fire was tamed. As the dust settled, academics pointed out that styrene leakage was likely the cause of the explosion. The factory had stored a lot of that chemicals in limited space. But that was as far as it goes in terms of serious investigations, and impact evaluations. No official impact or cause assesment had since been established.
This is a concerning reality since styrene monomer is a serious pollutant and can cause acute as well as long term health damages, cancer included. The environmental impact may include PM2.5, pollution of local canals, and continued chemical leakage.
The Ming Dih case exposed a great deal of structural problem. How was a factory permitted to stand in the middle of a community when it stored large quantity of flammable and toxic chemicals? Why was Ming Dih allowed to expand its production capacity in 2019 - the cause of large styrene storage? Why is there still no official impact assessment?
The most concerning however, remains the violation if right to know. Many citizens did not know that there was a factory in their midst, let alone one that stored mass amount of styrene. The firefighters could not access information that was vital to their job - how much and what kind of chemicals were being burned in the fire they were tasked to tame.
2021 was the year when a draft of the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register Act was knocked down by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha. The act would have guaranteed citizen’s direct access to what chemicals were inside each and every factory. It was an act that would have guaranteed citizen’s access to information, and empower agencies in controlling pollution release.
It was darkly comedic that the Ming Dih fire came after that. No disaster is a better reminder that Thai citizens are still in the dark when it comes to the information on pollution.
On July 4th, this year, Ecological Alert and Recovery - Thailand (EARTH), ENLAWTHAI foundation (EnLaw), Greenpeace Thailand, and allied CSOs submitted another draft of the PRTR law. What happens to this draft will be an indication on whether Thailand has learned the lesson of Ming Dih.