Cadmium plan lacking
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Cadmium plan lacking

In an effort to quash the public health scare that followed the discovery of illegal cadmium tailings that were illegally transported from Tak to several locations around the capital, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has ordered the toxic waste be returned to its source.

The process is scheduled to begin today and is expected to be finished by the end of the month. The order, however, has raised more questions than provided answers.

The prime minister is mistaken if he truly believes the scandal will end quickly simply by sending the waste back to its source. Since the news broke this month, authorities have been focusing on finding the 15,000 tonnes of cadmium tailings illegally removed from a landfill in Tak, which used to be the old Padaeng mine.

Several thousand tonnes were found at recycling plants in Samut Sakhon and Chon Buri, but public alarm peaked when a few hundred tonnes of the toxic waste were found in two locations in Bangkok.

While the Chinese owner of J&B Metal Co -- the company which owns one of the warehouses where the tailings were found -- and his associates have been arrested, questions about the government's plan to hold the seller of the tailings accountable remain.

This isn't the first time Thailand had faced issues involving cadmium. The first incident took place in 2004, when the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) found excessive levels of cadmium in cash crops and waterways around the Mae Tao River basin in Tak.

Tests of residents also showed abnormally high concentrations of cadmium in their bloodstream, which could cause kidney failure and various cancers. It resulted in 114 local residents suing Padaeng Industry Plc and Tak Mining Co for damages.

The zinc mine ceased operations in 2016, and the company rebranded as Bound & Beyond Plc. Cadmium tailings produced as a byproduct of the mine's operations were buried in a secure landfill approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

Had the House Committee on Industry not launched an investigation into the matter, no one of would have known that cadmium tailings from the landfill were being sold off to foreign buyers. Akadet Wongpitakroj, who chairs the House Committee on Industry, noted that purified cadmium can fetch up to 200,000 baht per tonne.

The PM's plan to put the toxic waste back into the landfill also raises questions about safety. The landfills from which the cadmium tailings were excavated for sale contained over 300,000 tonnes of toxic waste.

Now unsealed, they pose a serious threat to the environment and nearby residents. Given the toxicity of cadmium tailings, standard practice demands they be professionally treated before disposal. Yet the government is treating the cadmium tailings as if they were just ordinary rubbish that could be thrown out in a landfill.

Neutralising toxic waste and ensuring the safety of landfills with expert supervision may be costly, but the government doesn't need to worry about that, as the polluters are legally required to cover the costs.

In emergencies, the Pollution Control Department can initially cover the cost, but it can seek reimbursement from the polluters. This was done in the removal of toxic lead sediments in Klity Creek, Kanchanaburi. In addition, the government must roll out blood tests for everyone exposed to the toxic waste, especially children. Without these actions, the PM risks being seen as merely sweeping the rubbish under the rug.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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