NRC panel faults project impact studies

NRC panel faults project impact studies

Permits key to easing development rows

Villagers pan for gold in the Wang River of northern Lampang province, site of an annual gold rush during the dry season. (Main photo by Reuters; inset showing gold dust by Somsak Suksai)
Villagers pan for gold in the Wang River of northern Lampang province, site of an annual gold rush during the dry season. (Main photo by Reuters; inset showing gold dust by Somsak Suksai)

A National Reform Assembly member has urged the Ministry of Industry to tackle health and environmental issues stemming from industrial development including gold mining activities.

NRC member Hannarong Yaowalert, who sits on a NRC sub-committee on environmental impact assessment study reform, said the panel is seeking ways to improve the impact assessment study process.

Past practices have reflected its weak points, especially the lack of people's participation and incomplete information for assessing projects which led to negative impacts on human health and the environment.

Regarding the gold mining industry, he said the Board of Investment (BoI) should stop cutting import duties for cyanide to promote gold mine investment.

The chemical is used to extract gold from ore.

Mr Hannarong said the Ministry of Industry should announce its own ministerial regulations to support clean mining technology, adding mining companies' use of technology should be a key factor when it comes to granting concessions.

He said it is the best way to reduce conflicts between locals and companies.

Mr Hannarong said details of the reform proposals are expected to be completed by next month. They will then be sent to key state agencies.

The Department of Primary Industries and Mines (DPIM) should do more to address widespread conflicts between gold mine operators and local people affected by mining operations, a district chief in Phetchabun said.

Sakol Kaewpoungkham, the chief of Wang Pong district, has represented local villagers in urging the department to step in to end problems stemming from development which have occurred in Phetchabun, Phichit, Phitsanulok and Loei.

Gold mining firm Akara Resources Plc, which runs the Chatree mine complex straddling the three northern provinces, was ordered to temporarily stop its operations in mid-January after villagers accused it of polluting the environment and exposing them to harmful levels of hazardous substances.

However, it was allowed to resume operations in February on the condition the company holds public hearings in affected provinces and allows villagers' representatives to join authorities for mining inspections.

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

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 done by the Central Institute of Forensic Science (CIFS) last November, which found over half of the 730 villagers living near the mine have high levels of arsenic and manganese in their blood.

Cherdsak Utha-aroon, the company's external affairs manager, said the company's mining operations have followed industrial standards.

The firm has regularly submitted environmental quality control reports to the DPIM, he said, adding it has used the "zero discharge" wastewater treatment system, which recycles all industrial wastewater.

This means wastewater will not be released from gold mines to outside water sources, he said.

However, Mr Sakol said the DPIM is the only agency that can end the problem.

The department must find the cause of the chemical contamination as the company and local villagers still offer conflicting information, Mr Sakol said.

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