Thai lead polluter finally ordered to pay compensation
Many years after villagers in Thailand's Thong Pha Phum district began suffering from lead poisoning; six years after they filed their first case for compensation; and three years after they won, some of them have at last received an award for damages. See previous story:
(36 million baht is approximately US$1.18 million)
Lead polluter ordered to pay B36m compensation
21 December 2010
KANCHANABURI: The lead mining company found responsible for contaminating Klity creek has been ordered to pay villagers affected by its operations 36 million baht in compensation.
The Kanchanaburi Provincial Court yesterday awarded the damages to 151 ethnic Karen in the remote village of Lower Klity in Thong Pha Phum and Si Sawat districts after they lodged a one billion baht lawsuit in 2007 against Lead Concentrates Co for polluting their water supply and harming their health.
It found the company guilty of contaminating the creek and causing health risks to the villagers.
The damages were awarded based on how the pollution affected the villagers' daily lives and health, as evidenced by the high levels of lead found in their blood, said environmental advocate Surapong Kongchantuk, quoting part of the court's verdict.
Mr Surapong, a director of the Karen Studies and Development Centre, said the court ordered the company to pay between 100,000 and 600,000 baht in compensation to each plaintiff, except Jisa Nasuansuwan, 64, who died of cancer in 2008.
The court also ordered the company to restore the quality of the water in the creek by removing the lead and contaminated sediment.
The lead contamination at Lower Klity village was first reported in 1998.
The government closed the company's ore-processing plant three years later following the deaths of some villagers and their cattle.
The company later shut down its operation.
Lower Klity resident Yaseu Nasuansuwan said although the compensation approved by the court was less than what was sought by the villagers, that was not the most important concern.
"We need our old Klity creek back," said Mr Yaseu, who is among those villagers found to have high levels of lead in his blood.
"We want to return to living a normal life."
He and seven other villagers filed a separate 119 million baht suit against Lead Concentrates Co in 2003, citing the same complaints.
Three years later, the Kanchanaburi Provincial Court ordered the firm to pay the eight villagers 4.2 million baht each.
The company appealed the verdict, but the Appeal Court upheld the ruling.
The case is now before the Supreme Court.
In another case, the Administrative Court ruled in 2008 that the Pollution Control Department had to pay more than 743,000 baht in compensation to 22 villagers for failing to push through a rehabilitation plan and for failing to order Lead Concentrates to take responsibility for the damage it had caused.
The saga of Klity Creek
Bangkok Post (Editorial)
22 December 2010
One of the saddest and most damaging pollution cases ever recorded has come to a somewhat messy resolution. The order by the Kanchanaburi Provincial Court that Lead Concentrates Co must pay villagers for years of suffering may be the best that justice can provide. But lengthy delays, skimpy laws, red tape and bureaucrats without compassion drew out the tragic case of Klity Creek's contamination far beyond what is acceptable. The company ignored regulations, abused local residents and disregarded community standards to put profits before decency and concern for human rights.
The real shame of the sad tale of Klity Creek lies with a long string of governments and the regulators they failed to hold accountable. Various lawsuits in the case date back to 1998. (The suit in the court was filed "only" three years ago.) Long before the first legal moves, the pollution, destruction and human harm was well known.
This newspaper alone has documented the plight of the small Karen community as it suffered the mind-boggling arrogance of a company so fixated on profits. Government offices let down the community. They let down the country as well by allowing such flagrant pollution with a substance as dangerous as lead. Naturally, throughout the years of this terrible event, there were suspicions and even allegations of corruption of various sorts. These charges are unlikely to be pursued, if only because the company has gone out of business.
Klity Creek was an abuse of nature and humanity that never should have occurred. The company was set up several decades ago to mine lead from the region along the stream's banks. It could have installed proper equipment but chose to operate with the bare minimum of technology, and with little or no attention to any kind of safety. The waste from the mining was dumped directly into the creek, without so much as a show of concern. The government reported occasional fines for violations of safety standards, but Lead Concentrates apparently felt it was simpler and cheaper to pay the risibly low fines than to make improvements that would bring it into compliance with the law.
Meanwhile, as the stream turned from fresh to dangerous, lead-tainted water, the real victims were the ethnic Karen in the remote village of Lower Klity in Thong Pha Phum and Si Sawat districts of Kanchanaburi province. They had neither the means nor the influence to go up against the polluting company. They received no support from district, provincial or national officials charged with combatting polluting industries. Only the media was able to take up the case of the 150-odd villagers who had fallen sick and were suffering chronic illnesses. One man, Jisa Nasuansuwan, died of cancer. Other villagers died, as did their animals. Tests by reliable third parties showed dangerously high levels of lead in their bodies.
The most rational action in the Klity Creek saga was taken by the Administrative Court. It ruled in 2008 that the Pollution Control Department had not done its job, and should pay compensation of 743,000 baht to harmed villagers. Meanwhile, another suit filed in 2006 still lingers in the Supreme Court. Some of the judgements and most of the payments are moot, because Lead Concentrate has stopped all operations at the still polluted site.
The saga of Klity Creek is one of the worst known abuses of the environment and peaceful villages in recent history. One must hope that never again will a company be allowed to ride roughshod over a community in this manner. Agencies charged with enforcing pollution and environmental laws must learn from this sad story.