Chiang Rai residents protest lignite coal pollution from Laos

Image courtesy of KhaoSod

Residents of Chiang Khong are facing severe distress due to pollution caused by a private company transporting lignite coal from Laos. Despite multiple complaints, the issue remains unresolved, prompting the district chief to order a temporary halt to the transportation.

Mong Saenyai, a resident of Chiang Khong district, Chiang Rai Province, yesterday, July 2, revealed that villagers from Ban Mai Thung Mod and Ban Mai That Thong had collectively signed a petition. Over 200 signatures were gathered and submitted to the Chiang Khong district chief.

The grievances arose from the transportation of lignite coal from the border area near the Fourth Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge (Huay Xai-Chiang Khong). The coal is transported approximately 5 to 6 kilometres from the border checkpoint to the storage area.

A representative of the villagers, Mong had submitted a formal complaint to the Chiang Khong district centre. The private company operating the lignite coal yard has been causing pollution through dust and odours. Additionally, water from the coal piles has been flowing into the irrigation canal (Rong Yaeng), posing health risks to the residents of both villages. Mong provided crucial insight into how this practice has caused an uproar in the local community.

“Previously, in March, complaints were made about trucks transporting lignite coal without covering the loads with tarpaulins. When the coal was dumped, black dust dispersed, entering homes, and forcing residents to keep doors and windows shut.

“This occurred along the transport route and in communities near the lignite coal yard. Villagers are questioning whether it is permissible to allow coal dumping and activities that cause such dispersion in a community area.”

Hazardous storage

The complainant added that, upon investigating, it was found that the coal yard is located in a pink zoning area according to the comprehensive city plan, indicating that such hazardous storage is prohibited. There is also scepticism about whether a community consensus was reached before allowing activities that impact the community.

On July 1, over 30 villagers met with the Chiang Khong district chief to seek explanations from related agencies, including the Sathan subdistrict Municipality, Ban Mai Thung Mod village head, and the Chiang Khong District Public Health Office. However, no clear answers were provided regarding community consensus and the issuance of permits for health-hazardous activities. A village representative shares his overall pessimism on the matter.

“Despite multiple complaints to relevant agencies, the problem remains unresolved, and coal trucks continue to operate. Therefore, we met with the district chief, who ordered a halt to coal transportation yesterday evening. However, residents are not confident that the issue will not recur.”

The Chiang Khong district chief, Udom Pokpongbovornkul, said that after receiving the complaints, a plan to address the issue was formulated. The steps include coordinating with the Chiang Rai Provincial Public Works and Town & Country Planning Office to inspect whether the activities comply with land use regulations.

This will enable the Sathan subdistrict Municipality mayor to consider the health-hazardous operations permit. Additionally, coordination with the Environmental and Pollution Control Office 1 (Chiang Mai) will be undertaken to check air quality and water contamination near the coal yard. The goal is to expedite these actions within two weeks, reported KhaoSod.

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Ryan Turner

Ryan is a journalism student from Mahidol University with a passion for history, writing and delivering news content with a rich storytelling narrative.

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