MAC: Mines and Communities

Karen Villagers Compensated in Lead Poisoning Case

Published by MAC on 2006-08-16

Karen Villagers Compensated in Lead Poisoning Case

By Sai Silp

16th August 2006

A Thai court on Tuesday ordered a lead mining company in the country's Kanchanaburi province, bordering Burma, to pay 4 million baht (US $105,000) to eight inhabitants of a Karen village poisoned by contaminated water from a local stream.

More than 100 Karen people living in lower Klity village were said during the court proceedings to be suffering the ill effects of drinking water from the stream, which was found to be contaminated by lead waste from the mine, owned by Thailand's Lead Concentrate Company. A provincial medical team found earlier this year that blood samples from 70 village children had levels of lead above the acceptable standard. A number of children were reported to have been born in recent years with lead-related disabilities.

The eight villagers awarded compensation, in a Kanchanaburi provincial court ruling, were singled out as having suffered the most from the lead contamination. One of their lawyers, Surapong Kongjantuek, of the Thai Lawyer Council, said the villagers were unhappy with the settlement and were considering whether to lodge an appeal. Surapong said the villagers regarded 4 million baht insufficient compensation for "the long-term sickness and paralyzation of many people, including their children." The money didn't even cover medical treatment, they complained.

The villagers had also demanded compensation for the environmental damage, but the court ruled against them on technical grounds. Nevertheless, 22 Klity villagers are proceeding with a case before Thailand's Administrative Court against the country's Pollution Control Department, claiming the department failed in its responsibility to clean up the local environment. Surapong said the case wasn't expected to be decided until next year.

The department's Management Bureau said it is monitoring the Klity water quality and ruled recently that it's safe to drink provided it is filtered.

Villagers first drew attention to the quality of their water in 1998 in a letter of complaint to the Pollution Control Department. Tests that year found high levels of lead in the water, the mine was shut down and the Lead Concentrate Company was fined 2,000 baht ($52). No criminal charges were brought. Woralak Sriyai, an environmentalist with the Sueb Nakasatien Foundation, said that although the problem had existed for several years government action had been slow.

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