Crisis in waste management
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Crisis in waste management

The sight of our officials and ministers frantically searching for carcinogenic cadmium tailings is a reminder of how hopeless the state's toxic waste policy management has been. Without a major revamp, similar problems will only recur.

It is not the first time that communities have been at risk of leaking toxic waste. In March last year, a tube containing radioactive Caesium-137 went missing from the National Power Plant 5A Company's facility in Prachin Buri province. The tube was later burnt in a metal scrapper factory.

The government's response to the problem so far has been a short-term fix aimed at allaying public fears.

So far, Chinese investors who purchased more than 13,000 tonnes of cadmium tailing for recycling purposes have been arrested, and industrial officials in Tak province who approved transporting the waste to a recycling factory in Samut Sakhon province have been transferred.

Later, the 13,000 tonnes of cadmium waste were reportedly sent to two recycling factories in Samut Sakhon province and another facility in Chon Buri province's Ban Buang district.

But as of yesterday, 5,000 tonnes of cadmium waste were still missing.

The government has yet to inspect the whole supply chain, and there is no answer yet on why and how 13,000 tonnes of highly toxic waste were removed from a highly secure landfill site in Tak.

Originally, those cadmium tailings were byproducts from zinc mining operated by Padaeng Industry Plc a few decades ago. The mines closed, and all toxic waste was kept in a secured landfill approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

According to the Environmental Act 1992, a secured landfill of highly toxic substances is permanently sealed. If the waste owner wants to open a secured landfill, a new environmental impact assessment needs to be conducted and submitted to an EIA committee at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

It is reported that the waste owner obtained a legal permit from Tak province's industrial office last August to transfer waste to other provinces.

But is such a practice in line with environmental law?

If so, where is the "legal manifest sheet" -- a legal document that companies need to provide information about the shipment so that officials can trace where the materials were shipped and who are recyclers?

Either way, right now, officials are hunting high and low to find the last batch of 5,000 tonnes out of over 13,000 tonnes.

It would not be surprising if some of the carcinogenic waste had been burnt in a recycling furnace. Local recyclers have track records of unknowingly recycling highly toxic waste. Twenty-four years ago, local garbage scavengers unknowingly cut a cylinder containing Cobalt-60 that they stole from storage in Bangkok.

Society needs to focus on how to prevent this from happening again. It's about time for the Srettha government and lawmakers to pass the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) law that environmental groups proposed to parliament in February. PRTR legislation requires polluting businesses, such as factories, mines, and farms, to list their overall emissions and clarify their sources so that the public can access the data.

The missing cadmium and similar toxic waste issues in the past only confirm that existing state mechanisms are not enough. The PRTR needs to become law.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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