EARTH Thailand

Victory for Nong Phawa Locals! Court Ordered Win Process to Pay 20 Million Baht in Compensation – Restore Polluted Environment

EARTH REPORT 13 December 2022

Rayong court ruled in favor of Nong Phawa locals, declaring Win Process’ recycling factory responsible for widespread pollution – company ordered to pay 20 million baht in compensation as well as environmental restoration

Citizens of Nong Phawa village, Moo 4, Bang But subdistrict, Ban Khai district, Rayong province, gathered to hear the ruling in the case that may change their lives. A year and a half ago, 15 of them launched a lawsuit against Win Process recycling company, which they claimed had been polluting the local environment, causing the death of more than a thousand of rubber trees, and polluting local water supplies with heavy metal and Volatile Organic Pollutants (VOCs). Aside from the 15 plaintiffs, other Nong Phawa locals came to support their peers, as well as networks of citizens affected by pollution in Rayong province, as well as Phanom Sarakham district, Chachoengsao province. A number of news agencies arrived to wait on the result. 

Around 10.00, the court read the ruling. The court declared that the 3 defendants – consisting of the company itself, its previous director, and the current director – are legally possessors of hazardous substances. The court added that investigation be responsible agencies found consistent types of pollutants inside the factory and outside. Therefore, it can be concluded that the company is responsible for the pollution and must compensate the locals for 20,823,718. Additionally, the company is ordered to restore the polluted environment both belonging to the locals and the public “Nong Phawa” pond – the village’s namesake. 

Tiab Smanmit, the first plaintiff, and a farmer who lost more than a thousand rubber trees, thanked the court for enacting justice as well as all who has helped to push the locals to this point. “After almost a decade of pain, today I am happy, my morale is restored, I must sincerely thank everyone who helped us, the lawyers, the agencies, EARTH who gave us advice, including every news agencies, I express my sincere gratitude.”

Chamnan Sirirak, environmental lawyer and the plaintiff’s attorney said “This ruling is significant in how it defines the notion of owner not merely as current company representative. In this case, the previous company owner had changed himself out and had a nominee in his place, to avoid legal culpability. But the court decides that while the third defendant, who’s not the current owner, was the owner and the director at the time of the breaching incident, he established the company, and he was aware of the going-on. So the court decides that he is the owner of hazardous substance according to the Enhancement and Conservation of the National Environment Act. This is an expansion in the use of the environmental law that has significant implications.”

Penchom Saetang Director of EARTH Thailand, an NGO which has followed the case of Nong Phawa said “Today’s ruling is a boost of morale for locals who had been calling for help since 2013. It is a step forward in environmental justice. To get here, we had the helps of many sectors, from agencies like the Pollution Control Department who provided data of environmental monitoring, locals whose determination pushed them to take the problems to court after it has laid chronic for years despite constant complaints, and in this case the press has an important role to help push the story to the public, inducing policy-level agencies to come and look.”

While today is undoubtably a victory for Nong Phawa, the pollution in the area is still there. Heavy metal contamination is still there. There had been detection of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the past. Certainly, there should be investigation for Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) which have been found contaminating industrial waste dumpsite and recycling factories. 

In light of this, Penchom said the most important issue is environmental restoration, which would allow locals to make use of their land once more. In the past, Thailand has found it difficult to restore the environment even in cases where locals have won in court. It is therefore imperative to follow up if the story of Nong Phawa will go in the same direction.

Chamnan added that “the ruling in this case indicates clearly that the polluter must pay. Therefore the ruling can be shown to government agencies to illustrate that the wrongdoings are proven, the guilty has been identified. If the defendant doesn’t follow the court orders, then the relevant agencies must order them to, or take actions in their stead and go retrieve the money from the polluters at a later time.” 

Indeed, since launching this lawsuit, the Nong Phawa locals have been trying to adapt to the situation and restore the livelihood. Tiab Smanmit had tried to experiment with different plants in the unpolluted parts of his plantation – of which there is little left. At the same time, Pollution Control Department’s monitoring over the past year shows us that there is still heavy metal contamination in the area, with groundwater near local school and temple contaminated as well. Colors of the pond in Tiab’s plantation and in the public Nong Phawa pond remain discolored. 

EARTH will continue to follow and report on the case further.