Sick villagers call for gold mine inquiry

Sick villagers call for gold mine inquiry

Blood tests show high arsenic contamination

Villagers in the Phichit-Phitsanulok-Phetchabun province border areas say it's time Akara Resources Plc took responsibility for arsenic and cyanide in local water sources. (Photo by Thiti Wonnamontha)
Villagers in the Phichit-Phitsanulok-Phetchabun province border areas say it's time Akara Resources Plc took responsibility for arsenic and cyanide in local water sources. (Photo by Thiti Wonnamontha)

Residents of Phichit, Phitsanulok and Phetchabun provinces on Thursday asked the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to probe alleged contamination from gold mining by Akara Resources Plc.

About 60 representatives of people living near the Chatree mining complex run by Akara in the three provinces filed their request with the DSI and submitted test results showing high arsenic levels in villagers' blood samples.

Wanpen Promrangsan, who led the group, said villagers have suffered from the environmental impact of mining since 2010.

Arsenic, manganese and cyanide have contaminated public water sources and a large number of residents have fallen sick, she said.

The Pollution Control Department advised locals not to drink water from local artesian wells and tap water systems, she added.

Pranee Hongjantha, from Wang Pong district of Phetchabun, said her blood and that of her family members was contaminated by arsenic, and more than 600 people in the three provinces had become ill with some even getting cancer.

In February, the company carried out its own blood tests on 598 of the company's workers and Pakorn Sukhum, the company's chief executive officer, said the results put it in the clear.

Its test results, however, are at odds with those conducted by the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS) in November last year, which found over half of the 730 villagers living near the mine have high levels of arsenic and manganese in their blood.

The CIFS worked with Rangsit University when it collected blood samples from villagers, while Akara Resources joined hands with Mahidol University when it tested workers' blood.

Worranan Srilum, director of the DSI's Special Case Management Centre, said the DSI would soon decide whether to accept the case for investigation.

Authorities temporarily closed the mine in January due to complaints, but allowed it to resume operations in February, based on conditions that the company hold public hearings in affected provinces, allow villagers' representatives to join authorities to inspect the mining operations.

The firm was also told to cooperate with villagers and provide treatment for anyone ill as a result of the mines, according to the  Department of Primary Industries and Mines. 

Ms Wanpen later led a group of 40 people representing villagers affected by gold mining in seven central provinces to file a petition with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha through the government's public service centre.

Gold mining potentially violates Thais' rights and breaches environmental laws, as leftover chemicals drain into the natural water sources, said Ms Wanpen.

The representatives are petitioning against any new plans by the government to award firms more licences for gold prospecting or issue further gold mining concessions.

Villagers in Saraburi and Pitsanulok have also complained of health consequences from the mines, and the problem to this day is unsolved, said Ms Wanpen.

If more gold mines are permitted, more people will become victims of the ill-effects, she said.

Companies awarded gold mining concessions were also immediately issued land title deeds for the mining areas.

Meanwhile many farmers, who need land titles for agriculture, are still waiting for their deeds to come through, she said.

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