Activists issue alert on 'toxic' gold mine
Environmental activists say they have discovered harmful levels of heavy metals near a gold and copper mine in Loei's Wang Sapung district, but the mine operator insists this is a natural occurrence and mining is not the cause.
Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (Earth), an environmental NGO, revealed that a 2013 study found unsafe levels of arsenic and manganese near the mine operated by Tungkum Limited, a subsidiary of Tongkah Harbour Pcl.
Between June and November 2013, Earth's research team collected 24 soil samples from unexposed ore sources in Wang Sapung and another 58 soil samples from two creeks, Huay Lhek and Huay Phuk, that collect run-off water from the Tungkum gold mine.
Jutamas Suppradid, the team leader, said they found all soil samples from both creeks were contaminated with arsenic exceeding the Pollution Control Department's (PCD) standard level at 3.9 milligrammes per kilogramme of soil (mg/kg).
About 9% of samples from Huay Lhek, the nearest creek to the mine, were also contaminated with manganese exceeding the PCD's standard of 1,800 mg/kg. The findings were presented at a seminar on "Myths and Facts: Gold Mining in Loei Province" held at Chulalongkorn University yesterday.
Rangsit University environmental engineer Arpa Wangkiat said a separate study he conducted in November last year found that Huay Lhek contained levels of chromium, lead, arsenic, copper, mercury and manganese exceeding the United States Environmental Protection Agency's sediment quality standards.
Wichai Cherdshewasat, executive director for Tongkah Harbour Pcl, told the seminar yesterday the surveys alone could not be used to blame mining operations because they did not take into account local geography and the way people in the area think.
"The gold mine is located on a hot spot of natural arsenic," he said. "Arsenic was found in the creeks by a government survey in 2004, before mining began."
He insisted mining was conducted in a way which was unlikely to contaminate surrounding villages.
He believes villagers are "panicking" needlessly about alleged impacts caused from the mine since "there are no such impacts".