Villagers near Phichit gold mine poisoned by heavy metals

Villagers near Phichit gold mine poisoned by heavy metals

As many as 6,000 people living near a gold mine in Phichit province may have been poisoned by heavy metals, Central Institute of Forensic Science chief Porntip Rojanasunan said Friday.

The institute under the Justice Ministry found manganese and arsenic in 329 of 600 blood samples collected from locals in Thap Khlo district near the mine, which is part of the Chatree Mining Complex operated by Akara Resources Plc. The company operates mines in Saraburi, Phitsanulok and Phetchabun provinces.

One of the gold mines operated by Akara Resources Plc is in Thap Khlo district in Phicit province. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

Institute chief Porntip Rojanasunan estimated 6,000 people might be contaminated with the two heavy metals as well as cadmium, which was found in plants as far as four kilometres from the mine.

''The results are very concerning,'' Khunying Porntip said in an interview with FM106 news programme.

Manganese can cause neurological problems and, upon extended exposure, symptoms resembling Pakinson's disease. Arsenic poisoning causes ailments ranging from headaches to convulsions to night blindness to stroke.

Researchers from Rangsit University have found the three substances on soil, vegetables and water about four kilometres from the mines, she added.

''We have to find out how they spread that far,'' Khunying Porntip said. ''Cadmium was found some plants like the ivy ground and white popinac."

The tests were carried out on Wednesday and Thursday. Exams will be done again on 40 people having found contaminated by the two heavy metals to determine whether they have more toxic substances in their bloodstreams. And more samples will be taken from those not previously tested.

Khunying Portip said Phichit province has given the institute the green light to carry out more tests.

Testing began after villagers and activists complained about health and environmental hazards near the mines in Phetchabun and Saraburi provinces. They sent a letter to the National Council for Peace and Order urging the military regime to resolve their health problems in September. They also filed the same complaints with the Pheu Thai Party-led government last June.

The results have been sent to Phichit authorities and the Justice Ministry to decide on what they will do between the locals and the mine. Khunying Porntip said authorities responsible for the issue will eventually have to find a solution to the problem.

But the CIFS chief avoided mentioning the firm by name and said her agency focused only on the health issue. ''We're trying to solve health problems, not legal ones. We are not put ourselves in a position relating to the mines,'' she said.

The mine operator might demand proof that the contamination came from the mines, she said, adding: ''by that time, all exposed victims might be dead.''

The imminent task is to end the spread of cadmium and other toxic metals from ''several mountains" of waste, as they are directly affecting people, she said.

The province should map out a plan to help the ''at-risk group'' which should receive medical treatment in Phichit instead of travelling to hospitals in other provinces.

Akara Resources said on Thursday that the listed firm stood ready to cooperate with testing by the institute.

"We are pleased to have the meeting with Khunying Porntip as we believe she will be able to conduct proper testing," Akara chief executive officer Pakorn Sukhum said in a press release.

Akara received a 20-year licence for gold mining operations in Phichit, Phetchabun and Saraburi provinces. Its operation began in 2001, according to the company's website.

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