Operators of the Samut Prakan landfill which has caught fire and is spreading pollution over a wide area have been charged with neglecting safety standards and operating a landfill without a licence.
Facing up to toxic smog: Pedestrians on Phraeksa Road near the burning landfill in Samut Prakan's Muang district wear masks to protect themselves from hazardous smoke which has shrouded wide areas and caused visibility to drop. (Photo by Pattarachai Preechapanich)
The fire, which is still out of control, has forced some residents to evacuate and flee. Police say they have been trying to encourage the landfill operators to clean up their act for years, without success.
Bangpoo police investigator Pol Lt Nipol Kongpun named the landfill's operators as Bhrompol Samutsakorn and Mr Surapong Tangdenchai.
The men had been operating the garbage management business on the 70-rai landfill for two years. Pol Lt Nipol said the suspects did not own the landfill site, but rented it from a land owner.
He said the suspects had told him during an interview at Bangpoo police station that they had received a licence to run the business legally.
But they admitted their business licence had expired at the end of last year. They were now in the process of renewing it, he said.
“Although they claimed to have a licence, we have still charged them with illegal operation of a landfill as the licence has expired and we have obtained information to suggest they are still doing business without one,” he said.
Prapat Chobsorn, Phraeksa Tambon Administrative Organisation’s chief, said his office has never issued a landfill operating licence to the suspects as they did not provide a sanitation system at the landfill or satisfy environmental conditions required by law.
Mr Prapat said the office filed a complaint with local police against the suspects late last year on charges of illegally operating a landfill site.
He said the office had attempted to put an end to the illegal landfill, by erecting a fence around the site, putting a prohibited sign on the entrance and even stopping trucks loaded with garbage trying to enter the site. But the efforts were useless, Mr Prapat said.
He said the vacant site has served as a landfill for almost 20 years. Local people affected by smell and waste water from the dump site have lodged complaints with his office and police to sort out the problems. “There are many operators. They come and go. But none of them have a licence.
''All we can do is fine them 2,000 baht. As the local administrator, we can't enforce tough enough measures to deal with them,” he said.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Vichet Kasemthongsri said the caretaker government was concerned about the situation.
The Royal Thai Navy will provide more help to control the fire. About 20 water trucks are battling the blaze, along with water-carrying helicopters.
Praw Kaewthamma, a 37-year-old villager living near the site, said she felt the situation was getting worse due to the dense haze hanging over her community. She said she was suffering from eye and throat irritation.
Some families with young children were still living nearby the fire and did not know where to move.
Meanwhile, the City Hall continues to monitor air quality in six districts hit by pollution caused by the landfill blaze.
The districts are Bang Na, Prawet, Phra Khanong, Klong Sam Wa, Lat Krabang and Bung Kum districts and are said to be improving.
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Writer: Apinya Wipatayotin & Suthiwit Chayutworakan