Thailand’s hazardous waste crisis prompts law enforcement calls

Picture of fire damage at a warehouse in Ban Khai district, Rayong, on April 22, courtesy of Ecological Alert and Recovery-Thailand (EARTH))

Serious fires at hazardous waste storage facilities in Rayong and Ayutthaya, coupled with the illegal smuggling of cadmium tailings from Tak to numerous Thai provinces, have brought the issue of waste management into sharp focus in Thailand. With a shocking 36 million tonnes of hazardous waste produced annually, as reported by the Department of Pollution Control, concerns are increasing over the country’s handling of this toxic matter.

Environmental academic Sonthi Kotchawat pointed out that these incidents expose the government’s shortcomings in dealing with hazardous waste. This, he believes, is due to a lack of stringent law enforcement coupled with underinvestment in the recycling sector.

There are more than 2,500 recycling and industrial waste management facilities nationwide. A significant proportion, around one-third, are situated in provinces associated with the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), such as Chachoengsao, Prachin Buri, Chon Buri and Sa Kaeo.

Sonthi added that the number of these plants saw a significant rise following the National Council for Peace and Order edict 4/2559 in 2016. This edict suggested that waste power plants and waste management facilities should be exempted from city planning regulations, citing an urgent need to address waste management issues. However, the issue of evergreen licences, requiring plants to report biannually to the authorities, has become problematic due to a lack of follow-up inspections to verify adherence to regulations.

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Sonthi recommended a legal amendment to reassure the public about the proper management of hazardous waste. He also proposed the establishment of an audit system for plant inspections and suggested that local authorities should be granted supervisory powers over these facilities.

In 2022, a Rayong provincial court ordered Win Process to compensate 14 locals who had launched a complaint regarding the environmental impact of the company’s operations. Despite the court’s orders to conduct environmental rehabilitation, the company refused, citing that it was no longer in business.

Waste warehouses

On top of this, two hazardous waste warehouses in Ayutthaya and Rayong recently caught fire, causing significant damage. Dawan Chantarahassadi, the coordinator of victims from the industrial pollution network, urges the government to repeal order 4/2559 to curtail damaging activities.

Dawan stressed the importance of robust law enforcement to address hazardous waste issues. She believes that the proposed Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) could help alleviate the problem, by making information accessible to the public. The draft of this register is currently under consideration in parliament, reported Bangkok Post.

Chutiphong Pipoppinyo, Rayong’s Move Forward Party representative, criticised state agencies for their failure to effectively handle chemical fires. Highlighting the suffering of locals who bear the brunt of the fallout, he suggested that funds for hazardous chemical accidents should be utilised for emergency training and compensation for affected locals.

“Our members of Parliament are concerned and will raise the issue. We should have a solid outcome to prevent the same mistake. The hazardous haze has caused a severe impact on people and the environment, and more importantly, it takes time and budget for recovery.”

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Bob Scott

Bob Scott is an experienced writer and editor with a passion for travel. Born and raised in Newcastle, England, he spent more than 10 years in Asia. He worked as a sports writer in the north of England and London before relocating to Asia. Now he resides in Bangkok, Thailand, where he is the Editor-in-Chief for The Thaiger English News. With a vast amount of experience from living and writing abroad, Bob Scott is an expert on all things related to Asian culture and lifestyle.

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