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Thai government pushed to consider overdue pollutant bill

August 26, 2022
topics: Pollution
by: Pimfha Chan
located in: Thailand
tags: pollution, PRTR, Thailand

A huge explosion in Bangkok’s adjacent province rekindled a civil-society push to pass a bill that would create a pollutant database system in Thailand and help both the public and lawmakers identify environmental and health hazards.

A Thai civil society network in July resubmitted a proposal to the House of Representatives as a clarion call for the enactment of a law to create a pollutant database system that would require industrial or business facilities to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions for public access.

Spearheaded by the ENLAWTHAI Foundation, Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (EARTH) and Greenpeace Thailand, the group also launched a petition seeking at least 10,000 signatures to call for the House’s response in accordance with Thailand’s legislative procedure. 

The Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers, also known as PRTR, will allow stakeholders to scrutinise the impact of nearby sources of pollution that could potentially be hazardous for the environment and public health. The law, which is currently in effect in over 50 countries worldwide, will also help regulatory bodies make more informed decisions on policy making and, at the same time, allow the public to identify chemical exposure levels and evaluate potential threats in their regions.  

A seven-year effort

The move came after a series of relentless attempts over the span of seven years since EARTH and ENLAW first introduced the draft bill in 2015. However, the Thai government has repeatedly failed to promulgate the draft, even when it was submitted to the House just last year.

In July 2021, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha officially scrapped the draft that was submitted to parliament by the opposition Move Forward Party, claiming that it would add financial burden to the government, according to local reports. 

Even so, the tripartite alliance has remained persistent in fulfilling its agenda over the years. In March, a septanary group of environmental activist organisations set off a class-action lawsuit against the National Environment Board, Natural Resources and the Environment Ministry and the Industry Ministry for their non-action in establishing effective air monitoring after the cabinet declared smog problems to be a "National Agenda" in 2015.

Among their demands was the enactment of PRTR and measures to make emission inventory publicly available.

According to the World Air Quality Report published by IQAir, Thailand in 2021 ranked the fifth most polluted country in Southeast Asia with Lampang province placed as the most polluted regional city in the region. Up to 43,538 deaths in 2019 were attributed to pollution, of which around 70 percent were attributed to air pollution, as reported by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution.

Nevertheless, Thailand’s pollution control laws are still based on disparate scenarios and sources of pollution, such as the Water Resources Act 2018 and Public Health Act 1992 - but there is no universal law that enforces compulsory reporting obligations for all pollutants.

Explosive Factory Sparks Debate

In July of 2021, a chemical explosion in Bangkok’s Bang Phli district engulfed Ming Dih Chemical, a foam and pellets manufacturing factory, in a massive inferno that lasted for more than 24 hours. The event immediately rekindled the PRTR discourse in wider communities when over 30 people were reported injured and an urgent evacuation for communities within a five-kilometre radius was ordered as fumes began to spread to adjacent provinces.

EARTH’s director Penchom Saetang spoke at a seminar forum titled First Year Anniversary of Ming Dih Chemical: The Impact on the Environment and Community After the Fire Died Out, which marked the first-year anniversary of the explosion. In her speech, Saetang pointed to PRTR as a legal instrument that can reduce the risks of environmental hazards like this.

"Several factory explosions took place in the past," said Saetang. "I think the victims were not supposed to claim for damages on a case-by-case basis. But Thailand should have a clear law on pollution because a collection of data will lead to effective pollution planning and prevention - eventually bringing better safety.

"Following the United Nations’ recognition of the PRTR system [at the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil], Thailand should have had this law since 2015," she added. 

Thailand Behind Schedule

Thailand initially worked with the government-affiliated Japan International Cooperation Agency under the JICA-PRTR project, a pilot programme of the PRTR system which was implemented in Map Ta Phut of Rayong province during 2011-2015 and 2019-2021. But there was no action from the government to take the agenda to another step forward after the second phase of the project was complete.  

"The reason why the PRTR law has not been enacted in Thailand despite our many attempts in the past is due to the lack of understanding of the law that draws no political intention to push forward the agenda," Saetang told FairPlanet in an interview.

"The industrial sector may find the PRTR system that enforces all pollutants under the same standard to be burdensome, as it would give them more responsibilities in addition to those of the chemical emissions control laws - which are already scattered in different bills," she added.

"This false understanding shows that some industrial groups do not truly acknowledge that the system would [in fact] integrate the existing laws in line with PRTR standards rather than overlapping one another.

"We expect the PRTR law to be in effect within three years upon receiving approval for the draft bill from the government."

If the bill is successfully legislated, Thailand will become the first country in Southeast Asia to legalise PRTR. 

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Pimfha Chan
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Thailand
Prayut Chan-o-cha officially scrapped the draft submitted to parliament by the opposition Move Forward Party, claiming it would add undue financial burden on the government.
© Vachira Vachira/NurPhoto via Getty Images
According to the World Air Quality Report published by IQAir, Thailand in 2021 ranked the fifth most polluted country in Southeast Asia.
© Vachira/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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