Rayong still needs to be a “Pollution Control Zone” – says EARTH director
EARTH REPORT 01 February 2023
Penchom Saetang, director of Ecological Alert and Recovery – Thailand (EARTH Thailand) said the plan to remove the eastern industrial province of Rayong from Thailand’s pollution control zone is premature ill-conceived and premature.
As the representative of the Civil Society sector in the senate environmental committee meeting on the management of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) pollution in the Rayong pollution control zone – organized in Bangkok on January 26th, 2023 – Penchom re-iterated that the citizens of the eastern province had long suffered the consequences of poorly managed industrialism.
Since 2000, Penchom, at the time working as a member of CAIN or Campaign for Alternative Industrial Network – which would become the NGO EARTH in 2009 – had seen how foul smell affected citizens living near Map Ta Phut industrial estate. With help from Greenpeace and international groups such as the Global Community Monitor (GCM), they studied pollution problems in the area. The result of the study shows contamination of over 20 VOCs in the air.
This civil society action led to the establishment of VOCs emission regulation. It also led to lawsuits from communities against the government. Later on, the Thai government received recommendations from the Japanese government to establish a Pollutant Release and Transfer Register or PRTR system, which would mandate polluting sources to report the chemicals released and transported into the environment to government agencies, which would then make those information publicly available. PRTR is in effect, a system that guarantees right-to-know and public participation, in accordance to the Agenda 21 and Rio Declaration.
However, to this day, Thailand has yet to establish a PRTR system, with the PRTR draft law launched by civil society sector, including EARTH, repeatedly blocked. And in recent years, under the national reforms policies of the Prayuth Chan-o-cha government, plans were made to remove Rayong from the Pollution Control Zones, which would result in the weakening of environmental regulations.
It is not far-fetch to consider the idea that the recent senate committee seminar on solutions for VOCs problems in Rayong is part of the effort to find other solutions that would legitimize the removal of Rayong from the Pollution Control Zone.
Penchom concluded that it is high time the state ceases worrying about the impact on the image of the country towards investors. Rather the current trajectory, Penchom says, would lead to the destruction of sustainable economy, that in itself would damage the image of the country, while encouraging citizen’s opposition towards industries in general.
During the meeting, a nurse from Rayong stood up to give her views, expressing worries on the rate of cancers among people in the province, and the existence of carcinogenic VOCs pollution in the area. “If we will reduce or cancel the Pollution Control Zone, I have question in my heart that what mechanism will take over to regulation and eliminate pollution… what will control factories, because if we follow COP it would be voluntary measures – different from the legal implication of the Pollution Control Zones.”
Today, Rayong remains a hot-spot for industrial pollution, especially around Map Ta Phut industrial estate. Last year, a research agency under Chulalongkorn University also concluded that the Rayong Pollution Control Zone is not only not ready to be lifted, but of the zones is perhaps the least ready.