Ayutthaya villagers fighting decade-old coal pollution battle

The Nation
February 29, 2016

Environmental activist 'has received death threats'

VILLAGERS in Ayutthaya say local authorities are still not supporting them in a pollution dispute with local industry that has dragged on for years.

They said yesterday officials had not sincerely tackled a pollution problem from coal and flour transporters - and activists had been threatened with death by beneficiaries of the industry.

Villagers from seven tambons in Nakhon Luang district have complained of prolonged air and noise pollution from coal and flour transports for more than 10 years. They blame it for health problems endured by locals, and a river contaminated with fallen coal dust.

Amnart Urmpakdee, an environmental activist in Nakhon Luang, said his hometown was polluted by the industry plus goods and coal transport on the Pasak River.

The district was designated as a water transport hub for the industry in the region, but there was no determined effort to control the resulting pollution.

"Local people have sought the authorities' help to control the pollution many times, but every time we notified them of our burden, they promised to tackle the problem but in the end nothing was done," Amnart said.

He said that in 2014 locals discussed the problem with the province and the authorities promised to control the shipping industry in the area by applying strict laws from January 2015 to minimise the pollution.

But, he said, nothing happened. On top of this, three new factories were built last year and the pollution problem had intensified.

Srisuwan Chanya, president of the Anti-Global Warming Association, said there were 26 registered transport piers for 51 factories that operate in the district.

He claimed that they caused the environmental problems and were being sued together with 14 official agencies in the Administrative Court.

Amnart said 29 tonnes of coal were transported through the piers in Nakhon Luang every year.

He said the most problematic activity was coal transportation. Coal was carried upriver by large barges to the piers, which harmed the river ecology. It was then openly transferred on land, causing coal dust to diffuse into the air and fall on nearby communities.

"After the coal is transported on land, it is stored and sorted in open-air facilities. The wind and rain spread the coal dust into the environment and leak it into the river and make the water quality too poor for use," he said.

"It also makes people sick. Some have developed chronic allergic and respiratory diseases."

Amnart said he had received death threats from powerful beneficiaries in the industry.

"Many people told me to beware of my well-being, if I insist on protesting against the industry. But I don't fear, because what I am doing is about many people whose lives are harmed by the pollution," he said.

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