EARTH Thailand

Step towards cleaner air

Bangkok Post 01 September 2023

The Administrative Court on Wednesday ordered the Ministry of Industry to release data on PM2.5 air pollutants from the nation’s factories by the end of October. The verdict is good news for civic and and environmental groups concerned about PM2.5 who have campaigned for the government to publicly release data on factory pollution from the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR). 

PRTR has information collected by government bodies on what chemicals are being released, where, how much and by whom. Factories submit such data to the Department of Factories under the Ministry of Industry. 

Accessing the information will assist communities in monitoring pollution and aid officials during chemical and pollution-related accidents. It’s a pity that the government blocked public access to the PRTR database in the first place. 

Until the court’s verdict, civic groups had long pressured the Ministry of Industry to open public access to PRTR, with no success. Two years ago, a network of environmental groups submitted the “Pollutant Release and Transfer Register” bill, which the Prayut government shelved because it was deemed as financial legislature and, therefore, needed more scrutiny by related ministries such as finance and industry. 

The recent court verdict is a great opportunity for the Pheu Thai-led government to win people’s hearts, as the public has long been affected by PM2.5 air pollution.  The Prayut government squandered opportunities and utterly failed to tackle the issue. 

Now, the ball is in the court of the new industry minister — tipped to be Pitcharat Laohapongchana, a United Thai Nation Party list MP and young first-time minister. It will test her political will. 
The court’s verdict is the second this year about PM2.5 air pollution. In July, the Administrative Court in Chiang Mai judged that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the National Environmental Board (NEB) had neglected their duties in tackling ultra-fine dust or PM2.5 pollutants. 

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed in April by 1,700 residents in the province, which made headlines this year for having the world’s worst air pollution. One of the major sources of PM2.5 is the opening burning that occurs on large farms growing maize and sugar cane, as well as from industrial factories. 
The complaints and demands in the legal petitions include how ineffective national and local governments have been on the issue. For example, plaintiffs accused the Pollution Control Department (PCD of having failed to make Chiang Mai city a “pollution control zone” despite it having to deal with high levels of air pollution for over a decade. Such a legal status would have led government bodies to impose more stringent anti-pollution plans. 

The Chiang Mai plaintiffs also demanded the Stock Exchange of Thailand audit publicly listed companies to reveal their emissions and from the rest of the supply chain. The new Pheu Thai-led government now must follow the administrative court verdict while also looking into the National Masterplan on PM2.5 that the previous government developed in 2019 to see if it can be improved upon. The public has suffered from PM2.5 air pollution, partly because past government officials have failed to do what they should have done. It is only hoped that the new government will not repeat the same mistake.