MAC: Mines and Communities

Thailand: Human Rights Commission insists zinc mine led to illnesses

Published by MAC on 2006-07-28

Thailand: Human Rights Commission insists zinc mine led to illnesses

By Bangkok Post

28th July 2006

Giant zinc mining company Padaeng Industries has been discharging toxic substances into natural streams, leading to heavy metal contamination in the environment and cadmium poisoning among villagers in Tak's Mae Sot district, says the National Human Rights Commission. ''The cadmium contamination in the rice fields and natural streams did not happen naturally as state agencies and the company have claimed, but was caused by the company's mining operation,'' an NHRC report said yesterday.

The NHRC said the Basic Industries and Mine Department was negligent in failing to get the private company to implement more environmental impact mitigation measures.

Padaeng senior manager Unnop Tungkananukulchai dismissed the NHRC's report, saying the company's zinc mining operation in the district had nothing to do with the cadmium contamination or the villagers' sickness.

''We have not violated any state guidelines concerning mining operations or environmental impact mitigation measures.

''We also run a wastewater treatment facility as required,'' said Mr Unnop.

Cadmium contamination was detected in tambons Mae Tao, Prathat Padaeng and Mae Ku in Tak province in early 2004 by foreign scientists from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), which found that several hundred villagers in the tambons had ''rather high'' and ''high'' levels of cadmium in their blood, suspected to have come from eating cadmium-contaminated rice.

State agencies, including the Pollution Control, the Disease Control, and Mineral Resources departments, inspected the area and concluded the cadmium contamination occurred naturally as the area was located near cadmium and zinc deposits.

However, after two years of investigation, the NHRC yesterday insisted that contamination was caused by Padaeng Industries' mining operation, not by natural sources as alleged.

The company failed to put in place wastewater treatment plants to treat toxic-contamination water from its mine, and should be held to account, it said.

''The company should be ordered to suspend its mining operation until it completes a clean-up of the contaminated soil and water in the area,'' said human rights commissioner Wasant Panich, who supervised the investigation.

It should also pay for medical treatment costs of affected villagers, he said

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