ADB should admit Klong Dan errors

Bangkok Post 5 November 2000

By Dawan Jantrahassadee

As a Klong Daan resident, I would like to comment on the article entitled "Pollution Crisis Demands Drastic Action" which was published in Perspective on September 24, 2000.

Ian Gill, senior external relations officer of the Asian Development Bank, wrote in the article that there are 5,000 factories in Samut Prakan discharging waste water into public waterways. Although some factories have treatment facilities, they don't meet legal standards and state inspectors often turn a blind eye to this. Many factories simply shut off their treatment plants to save cost.

Regarding the centralised treatment plant now being built in Klong Daan, the Pollution Control Department has affirmed that it cannot treat heavy metals, including cadmium, lead and mercury.

In theory, factories are required to clean waste water to a certain level before passing it to the centralised plant to be further treated. The law requires factories to install water treatment plants. It is illegal to discharge untreated water into public waterways. Corrupt authorities must be charged for negligence.

The pollution problem needs to be tackled at its roots by imposing strict control rather than wasting tax money to build a large treatment plant that is not even economically viable.

Ian Gill also says the waste treatment project will bring "technical efficiencies and economies of scale in both operations and maintenance".

But the fact is that Mr Siritan Pairoteboriboon, the Pollution Control Department director, has already admitted to the locals that the plant cannot get rid of heavy metals. When asked about other problems such as odour and residue that are harmful to health, the department has failed to come up with a clear explanation.

It is neither true that the operation is cost effective. Prof Mansin Tantuves, an expert in environmental engineering from ChulalongkornUniversity, says the project's technology is out of date and expensive. Massive electricity is needed to run the system. It is not even clear who will be in charge of the plant's management and maintenance.

Furthermore, according to the Bangkok Post, many factory owners have already made clear they will not use the plant's service because they have to pay more.

Ian Gill also says the locals have two specific objections; odour and waste water that can destroy coastal eco-systems.

For odour, he says an all-Thai joint venture called NVPSKG is considering options to minimise the problem, while the Water Quality Control Division is studying ways to recycle the water.

But how much money will have to be dumped on such projects? The authorities have yet to explain how heavy metal residue will be eradicated.

How can we believe that the promises about odour and residue management and water recycling are not merely sweet words to lure the Pollution Control Department since contractors are not responsible for these expenses.

Apart from that, the ADB article claims a buffer zone will be created to minimise the impact of any side-effects. It's hard to believe that those responsible for such a large-scale project would take such a short-cut attitude as to build first and solve problems whenever there are demands from the locals.

This is a serious breach of the principle of ADB loans because there has not been any environmental impact study in Klong Daan before the project began.

Ian Gill may not fully understand the nature of Klong Daan, whose inhabitants feel it is unjust to build the plant in their backyard.

In fact, the project will affect more than 40,000 residents in two tambons and two provinces, not 20-40 people as Ian Gill has claimed.

Our opposition and stance have always been clear. Klong Daan residents have never opposed the concept of water treatment construction. But we do not agree with the project's location and specifications. The plant cannot even get rid of heavy metals and toxic substances. There are also other adverse impacts that can lead to the destruction of the environment, bio-diversity, and livelihood of Klong Daan residents who depend on fishery.

We have complained to many government agencies and the ADB to cancel the project. But we have never received any explanation since the construction began. The locals have never been allowed to participate in decision-making, while the ADB would rather close their eyes and ears to the questions of transparency, corruption, environmental impact and good governance.

I want to stress that Klong Daan residents can think for themselves. They don't want their community to live in fear of pollution from the project which is designed for environmental protection.

We hope the ADB, which lends money for the project, understands more about the locals. The ADB must not merely believe in propaganda. Instead, it should conduct its own study on all matters concerned. The ADB always insists that it adheres to good governance. It should act what it preaches.