Si Thep Locals Demand Justice to be Enacted Against Toxic Landfill
The local representative submit their complaint to the director-general of the Department of Industrial Works
(Photo: EARTH Thailand)
EARTH REPORT 20 February 2023
Si Thep locals are calling for government agencies to take actions after a landmark court case failed to end impacts from a polluting landfill
Over 80 Locals of Ban Muang Chum village, Khlong Krachang subdistrict, Si Thep district, Petchaboon province, northeastern Thailand, gathered at a local temple to greet the director-general of the Department of Industrial Works (DIW), Ministry of Industry (MOI). The director-general had travelled to Ban Muang Chum after hearing that locals had planned to travel into Bangkok city to submit a letter to him.
It would be very difficult for you to travel all the way there, so we come here, the director-general said. In front of him sat a grandmother, a middle-aged lady, and a young child. They were holding a sign which read “Please help us. Please tell them to stop hurting our home. We want the air and water we used to have.”
That plea was augmented by a statement from a representative of the locals, who stated that the DIW has the responsibility to regulate the operation of factories. The statement asked that the DIW closed the landfill which belonged to the industrial waste recycling company Aek Uthai Co. Ltd., until the foul smell and the leakage of chemicals could be investigated and solved.
Part of the frustration, as one local revealed, was that they thought they had won a historic lawsuit just last year, and yet that victory has not yielded concrete solution.
The court case launched by the Ban Muang Chum local was historic because of its speed. In May 2022, the locals submitted the lawsuit. In August that same year, the administrative court ruled in record speed that DIW and other agencies had been negligent in preventing the impacts caused by Aek Uthai’s landfill. It ordered agencies named in the lawsuit to ensure that the company will not cause any further impact within 30 days. They were also ordered to oversee the company’s restoration of local groundwater and surface water.
“Local citizens have not seen the Department of Industrial Works, the Petchaboon Provincial Industry Office, and Aek Uthai company, conduct any improvements or solutions, at the same time they have appealed the court’s ruling.” Read the statement. “We ask that you [director-general of DIW] stop the operation of Aek Uthai Co. Ltd., until the environmental impact will be solved.”
The director-general of the DIW, which had been appointed in late 2022, said that since his appointment, he has planned to engage with the problems caused by industrial waste seriously. Indeed, under his tenure, the DIW had made public investigation, alongside CSOs and the press, of two other industrial waste contamination sites: Nong Phawa village and Nampu subdistrict.
As locals led him from water well to water well, he was told repeatedly that the smell he experienced today is not as bad as they had experienced. One local stated that since there was news of the DIW coming, the factory had emitted much less foul smell.
The group finally arrived at the house closest to the factory (200 meters away). Here, the director-general of DIW remarked that the groundwater drawn up for local usage, smells like “hydrocarbon”. Before leaving to investigate the factory itself, he said once again to the locals that he will do his best within his legal limits to bring this problem to an end.
The plight of Si Thep locals reflects the difficulty of implementing environmental justice in Thailand. While the court has already gave its order, the implementation of said orders still rely on local’s monitoring and resistance.
One Si Thep locals stated that they have collected so much evidence and information, save going inside the factory to dig things up. They believe that these information – one of which revealed connection between carcinogenic VOCs found in the factory and in local’s water wells – should be enough for actions to be taken.
“Yet we see officials get rotated out. We understand that new officials need to investigate the issue again. We empathize. But we also ask that officials to empathize with us, as locals who have been living with the problem for over 5 years now.”