Against the Flow

Bangkok Post 14 May 2000

By Supara Janchitfah

POLLUTION CONTROL:  Industry-ravaged Samut Prakan is about to get a shiny new wastewater treatment plant. But can it persuade its target customers to a) use it and b) pay for it?

'This project is a good project and I believe we should have it," said Vanchai Ong-eam, manager of Thonburi Automotive Assembly Plant Co Ltd, located in Samut Prakan province. "But since my factory has its own wastewater treatment facilities, I don't have to join the project in Klong Dan." He sends the heavy substance waste from his factory to Genco, a private, hazardous waste treatment company. Mr Vanchai invested about 30 million baht in a private wastewater treatment system for his factory.

 

STORM OF CONTROVERSY

Most Thais agree that factory wastewater needs to be treated  before being released into public waterways. However, factory  owners are reluctant to assure their participation in the state-built wastewater system in Klong Dan district.

Approved by the Chuan government in 1995, the Klong Dan Wastewater Treatment Plant is 20 percent complete. At a cost of 23 billion baht, it is being built amidst a storm of controversy about its location, cost, viability and clientele.

"We will also treat household wastewater. We will do our public  relations and tell the people that their water will not be released directly into canals but into our system. They will have to pay at least five baht per cubic metre or more," said Dr Yuwaree Inna, director of the Pollution Control Department's Water Quality Management Division. According to Dr Yuwaree, about 80 percent of Samut Prakarn's wastewater comes from factories and only 10 percent from households.

The remaining 10 percent comes from various commercial sectors.

For Samut Prakarn residents this project is new to them. Most feel uncomfortable when asked if they have to pay to treat their used water.

"I cannot understand what will happen if we have to pay more to treat used water from our home. We have to pay everything, we have to pay taxes both direct and indirect. Do we have to pay again for our used water?" asked a Samut Prakarn resident.

"It is the factories that pollute waterways," said the resident, "not us."According to Ms Vibha Pranprao, head of the project's consultant team, the system is expected to treat wastewater emissions of some 3,600 factories in Samut Prakarn province alone.

"The project is also expected to treat wastewater from two industrial estates and will benefit about 600,000 people," she added.

Vibha said her team coordinates with the Provincial Industrial Council and various industrial sectors. "Most agreed and were happy to join the project," she said. "They said it would be cheaper for them to join than to invest in their own water treatment facilities.

"(To do it on their own) at this time, they have to spend about 100 baht per cubic metre to treat their own wastewater. Besides, the systems deteriorate after seven years, so they have to upgrade their facilities.

"We only charge about 12 baht or so. The fixed fees will have to be decided when we complete the project," said Vibha.

Dr Yuwaree said the project has a two percent financial rate of return and an 18 percent economic return. "Our survey shows that over half of the factories have old water treatment systems, and they are willing to join our project in order to develop their land into some other factory facility," said Ms Vibha. A total of 160 factories in Samut Prakarn were included in the survey, she said.

(According to the Industrial Works Department, there were about 6,570 factories in Samut Prakarn as of December 1999).

Although thousands of factories are all over the province, the head of the consulting team said their first priority is to collect wastewater from the western and eastern sides of the ChaoPhyaRiver, where "about 80 percent of the factories are located.""Pipes are very expensive. To connect to those scattered in other areas will cost a lot more. We would like to concentrate on the area where most of the wastewater is being generated," said Ms Vibha.

Before the Pollution Control Department (PCD) took over the responsibilities of providing and controlling wastewater treatment, it conducted a study that identified weaknesses in the past wastewater treatment system.

In its 1998 report, only five out of the 26 wastewater treatment facilities the PCD inspected were fully functional; the rest were either in poor condition or not working at all.

 

RELUCTANCE TO JOIN

All 6,570 factories in Samut Prakran have their own water treatment facilities, says Provincial Industries chief Prasong Pongpitak.

"We cannot allow these factories to operate without water treatment facilities," Mr Prasong says.

However, he pointed out that most of the factory owners he talked to found it difficult to join this collective wastewater treatment system.

"They say they have their own wastewater treatment systems, so they see no reason why they must join the state system." He said the water treatment system in most factories can run for years. Most treatment ponds are of cement and are durable, so they need not change every seven years. "It is not true that the factories will have to change such systems every seven years."He said the only way to get factories to join such a water treatment project would be to pass new regulations that would force them to join.

But he admitted that this would be hard in practice.

PCD officials refused to comment on the Industrial Works Department's (IWD) lack of control over wastewater treatment systems in factories. Mr Prasong said the IWD has a weak monitoring mechanism. "The IWD lacks manpower to monitor factories 24 hours a day," he said.

 

CHEAPER TO DO IT YOURSELF

The Bang Poo Industrial Estate has about 300 factories within the estate. Ms Vibha said the new collective wastewater system will also serve the industrial estate. However, in December last year, the Bang Poo Industrial Estate signed a 30-year contract with Global Environment Technology Co (GETC) to operate and manage the estate's wastewater treatment system.

"We are going to build a new wastewater treatment plant costing  about 200 million baht," said Mr Somchai Chareonvanich, GETC general manager.

"After our company took over the job, we found that the present BOD level of our treated water is even better than the national standard," said Mr Somchai.

BOD, or biological oxygen demand, is a measure of the polluting capacity of an effluent.

Here, pollution is caused by the take up of dissolved oxygen by micro-organisms that decompose the organic material in the effluent.

Mr Somchai said that it is not necessary for them to send their water to the Klong Dan collective system.

"Our water treatment system meets the standard, and it costs about six to seven baht per cubic metre. Within the next 30 years, the cost will not change much," said Mr Somchai.

Another target clientele is some 120 factories in the Bang Plee Industrial Estate. However, the estate also has its own facilities. "Our wastewater treatment system can handle 8,000 cubic metres a day," says an environmental officer of the estate, who prefers to remain anonymous.

"At the moment, we only have about 3,000 cubic metres of wastewater, so we are still able to treat more water.

"We invested about 50 million baht for this system, excluding the land which costs about 100 million baht," the officer added. The Bang Plee Industrial Estate cleans up wastewater for just 10 baht per cubic metre.

"We charge them about 80 percent of the cost of tap water they are using plus the level of BOD of each factory. That's equivalent to less than 10 baht per cubic metre," the officer said. Meanwhile, critics point out the collective system's high cost.

"There has been no clear discussion about the fees that the treatment plant would charge factories," said Dr Kasemsan Suwanarat of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

"If the plant charges factories 20 baht per cubic metre, will the factories join the system?" he asked.

"When the factories begin to follow the ISO 14000 standards, will they still patronise the PCD plant?"ISO standards require manufacturing plants to have their own wastewater treatment systems.

Although PCD officials indicated that rates will be pegged at a minimum of 12 baht, no definite rates have been announced.

"We will be able to announce the exact charge per unit when the project is completed," said Dr Yuwaree of the PCD's Water Quality Management Division.

 

PROBLEMS REMAIN

Although agencies in Samut Prakan have tried to enforce environmental laws on factories, households, and other manufacturing concerns, surrounding bodies of water remain polluted.

At least two agencies have the authority and structure to enforce pollution control laws in Samut Prakarn, yet they cite "lack of manpower, problems of inter-agency coordination, and law enforcement" as well as other reasons.

Will this new wastewater treatment plant help? Or will it be hampered by the same problems that currently hamstring the operations of the Pollution Control and Industrial Works departments?

Editor's Note: More details about the project will be published in the following weeks.