Rayong fire sparks urgent call to rescind 2016 junta law on planning. A top environmentalist demands more accountability and government action. Public unease is rising amid recycling plant disasters and nationwide concerns over industrial safety.

A massive fire that broke out at a defunct Rayong recycling plant on Monday night was still burning on Tuesday. As Industry Minister Pimphattra Wichaikul rushed to put out another fire linked to Thailand’s dubious recycling industry, an environmentalist called for a disaster area to be declared. In addition, he called for a junta-era order from 2016 to be rescinded. Sonthi Kotchawat asked who would ultimately pay for the damage caused by this fire. He urged local people within 5km of the plant to go and have health checkups. In addition, he warned that a large amount of polluted water used in the fire response in the last 24 hours would seep into the soil. He also questioned the spate of fire incidents at such plants in recent days.

Minister of Industry, Pimpatra Wichaikul (centre), at Government House on Tuesday. Inspectors from her ministry were at the site. Mr Sonthi Kotchawat (left), an environmental expert, called for the area around the Rayong plant to be declared a disaster area. In addition, he called for the junta-era law on recycling plants to be axed.

A top activist has called for the rescinding of a junta-era order and a complete reappraisal of industrial recycling in Thailand.

At length, it comes as a fire, which broke out on Monday night, was still smouldering on Tuesday.

The fire, which erupted at multiple points, produced toxic smoke plumes. Moreover, it led to the evacuation of many families and locals.

The incident occurred in the Ban Khai district of Rayong province. In addition, it follows a history of problems with the same facility, which has been closed for some time.

Fears that Thailand is becoming a dumping ground as a pollution crisis emerges. Recycling industry health risks mount alongside more hazardous incidents

The facility is owned by the bankrupt Winprocess Company Limited and is situated in the sub-district of Bangbut.

Thailand’s growing pollution crisis comes as a surge in hazardous materials threatens public health and the environment.

The latest pollution scare follows in the wake of another industrial pollution controversy in recent weeks.

Thailand saw 13,450 tons of highly toxic spent cadmium illegally taken and sold. It was distributed across various sites in Thailand. Indeed, some of the load taken from a Tak province disposal site was unaccounted for.

At one site in Bang Sue, Bangkok, it was found that the toxic substance had entered the public water overflow system. Locals nearby tested positive for the poison.

In addition, there are fears that Thailand has become a dumping ground for recycling waste from foreign countries. The importation of such materials has surged since China banned the industry in 2017.

Lethal Cadmium linked to a shift in dangerous e-waste recycling from China to Thailand since 2017
Emergency averted in Pattaya’s Nong Prue area as 60 people cough blood and foam at the mouth from gas

At the same time, many of the operators of such plants are Chinese nationals, although there are also Thai partners involved.

Disaster area declaration urged amid growing environmental peril. It comes after the Pattaya gas leak incident last week which saw 60 people hospitalised

Meanwhile, there was another dangerous incident at a refrigeration plant in Pattaya on Thursday.

A local community was affected within 1 km of the facility in Bang Lamung. This followed an ammonia leak at the factory. In turn, sixty people were hospitalised with three of them seriously injured.

On Tuesday, Mr Sonthi Kotchawat called for the government to declare an immediate disaster area near the Rayong plant. The conflagration there broke out on Monday night.

He warned that the result of the fire would be the release of benzene, xylene, PM 2.5, PM 10, and carbon monoxide into the air.

In addition, Mr Sonthi warned that there may be other substances. However, the firefighting operations used copious amounts of water.

In turn, this means that the substances will also enter the topsoil. Therefore, he warned that the polluted water would reach water sources such as ditches and canals.

In turn, the damage from the pollution would impact crops within a 5 km radius of the factory. This is in addition to the air pollution in the past 48 hours.

He estimated that farmers’ land covering 800 rai would be impacted.

Urgent call for health checks as fire raises cancer fears. Who ultimately will bear the cost of damages to local people from the Rayong plant disaster?

He warned that the fire and pollution at the facility would have serious health impacts.

‘People will breathe in toxins. Some people are acutely ill and must be treated quickly, but others may accumulate in the body and become sick later. The question is if someone gets cancer, who is responsible?’

Consequently, he urged local people in the area to check their health status. This means attending hospitals and keeping records.

‘Therefore, what I would like to propose is that we have to have people go for a health check in the past 3 years. Especially those living in the downwind areas, especially the 2 sub-districts, Bang But and Bang Bua. These are the affected areas. There is danger. They must go for annual blood and urine tests for 3 consecutive years.’

Local people’s expenses must be covered

Mr Sonthi then asked who would pay for the damages caused. In the short term, he said, local people must have their expenses covered.

The government must declare a disaster area. People locally need clean food and water, and it must be provided without charge.

Afterwards, he asked who will pay the bill. He suggested that factories like this should have insurance policies or indemnity bonds to cover such disasters.

At present, this facility has been closed for some time. The owner, a company, was subjected to government orders to clean up the premises and the land it sits on. However, how can this be enforced?

Environmental activist urges immediate repeal of NCPO order for recycling industries. Called for transparent public hearings on recycling factory concerns

He particularly cited a 2016 order by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) related to recycling factories. He called for this to be immediately revoked.

‘This may happen again. Next, we need to reform the laws that govern these factories. If any factory has a lot of chemicals stored, does it have to pass an EIA (environmental impact audit) or not? It should be in a closed system. ‘Industrial estate’ or not? And most importantly, where would a factory like this be located? There should be a public hearing and it must be repealed. Section 4/2016 is the NCPO’s measure that allows this type of factory. You can set it anywhere. This kind of order must be cancelled immediately.’

Furthermore, the environmentalist raised the ongoing battle between the now-defunct facility owners and local people. He questioned whether it was insured and who would be responsible in these situations.

The activist also suggested a pattern in recent days as the government takes action to review the threat. He questioned if such fires were truly accidents or perhaps something more nefarious.

Questions about the claim that the heat wave caused the fire. Activist calls for a forensic examination into the cause of the Rayong Fire on Monday night

‘There are many factories like this. Most of these are ‘recycling’ factories where industrial waste is stored. In the end, they refused to get rid of it. Some factories choose to bury it in the factory in various clay ponds, which are difficult to verify. However, there were many cases that were caught, for example in Ratchaburi and Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya provinces, where everyone was waiting for a cleanup, but a fire broke out.’

In the Rayong fire, he noted that the fire has been attributed to high-temperature levels.

Thailand, undoubtedly, is currently experiencing a heatwave. But Mr Sonthi claims that it would require temperatures in excess of 54°C to ignite such fires.

‘I noted that the fire was attributed to hot weather. Without sparks, the air must be very hot, up to 54 °C, but the hottest air in our country is 43°C. Therefore, for a fire to start, there must be a ‘spark’. And why does the fire have to burn in Building 5? And why are the chemicals stored outside the building? These were exposed to the sun, but they did not catch fire. This is a matter for the Forensics Division. Certainly, they must go and check,’ concluded Mr Sonthi.

Meanwhile, at Government House, as cabinet ministers met for their weekly meeting, Industry Minister Pimpatra Wichaikul addressed the latest controversy.

Ms Pimpatra’s ministry has been busy this year with factory disasters, explosions, and pollution scandals.

She told the media she had ordered senior officials to monitor the situation in Rayong.

In addition, the Director-General of the Department of Industrial Works was to prepare a report on the facts in this case.

Industry minister confident that the owners of the factory will certainly be held accountable and punished for leaving hazardous materials at the site

She noted that the factory was closed yet dangerous substances had been left at the facility. On this basis, she promised to track down those responsible. In short, she declared they would be punished.

In the meantime, she promised assistance to local people.

‘This matter affects the public at large. The ministry has ordered an urgent investigation to find out the facts and causes of this fire. In addition, we emphasise that people in the surrounding area should be taken care of in the order.’

A visibly upset Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, firstly, refused to discuss the scandal surrounding dismissed deputy police chief General Surachate Hakparn.

Mr Srettha expressed concern for the health of local people in Rayong. He underlined Ms Pimpatra’s mission to get to the bottom of the matter.

As with the cadmium scandal, the prime minister’s emphasis was on the immediate problem of disposing of industrial waste. The wider issue of industrial policy and regulation of recycling activities in Thailand is not being addressed by the government.

PM’s emphasis has been on cleanups. However, the wider issues of the recycling industry and corruption leading to dangerous practices has not been addressed

In short, there is a significant concern with up to 2,600 facilities like this.

In addition, there is widespread corruption, with factories being granted licences as cover for effectively illegal practices.

The raging fire consumed five warehouses since Monday. The facility is owned by the bankrupt Winprocess Company Ltd.

In fact, it continues to store hazardous waste in Ban Khai district, Rayong. At length, the fire broke out on Monday night. It immediately triggered concerns about environmental repercussions.

Local people were already nervous and anxious.

Firefighters and officials still at the site as ministries promise action to address real public concerns

Firefighters battled flames engulfing the Tambon Bangbut compound. Certainly, it was an impressive operation by the emergency service workers.

The fire continued emitting thick smoke and an acrid stench detectable up to 10 kilometres away.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Patcharawat Wongsuwan instructed pollution control authorities to assess the environmental toll.

Industry Minister Pimphattra Wichaikul later confirmed that the Department of Industrial Works would probe the inferno’s cause. 

She noted the company’s closure while at the same time retaining hazardous materials. The defunct Winprocess Co. Ltd. previously faced environmental allegations from locals before declaring bankruptcy.

Fire still smouldering with fear of explosions

Sirakan Lueangsakul, of the Industry Ministry, reported from the site. He noted that the ongoing blaze was hampering investigation into the hazardous contents. In brief, this included tyres, carpet scraps, and plastic bags.

Officials struggled with containing flare-ups while using a machine to inject foam to smother potential fires.

Mr Weerakit Ranthakitthanawit, Ministry of Industry Inspector General, along with other officials, inspected the site. Simultaneously, they informed the minister of the situation.

Bangbut Subdistrict Administrative Organization Mayor, Mr Jaturong Wongsuwan, on Tuesday, indicated 95% fire control.

While this was good progress, he expressed concern over remaining smouldering areas and the potential detonation of burned chemicals. He emphasised the need for cautious environmental management.

Junta in 2016 removed such recycling plants from the oversight of the country’s planning laws. It cited the need to boost economic development and growth

The junta law referred to by Mr Sonthi is No 4/2106, a directive issued by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) in February 2016.

It exempted all power plants, water treatment plants, garbage disposal and collection plants, recycling plants and gas processing plants from planning laws. These are provided for in the Town and City Planning Act (1975).

Previously, the then-junta government hailed the move as necessary to secure the kingdoms’ energy needs. Similarly, it highlighted the move as a boost to economic development.

Chinese business concerns opened up recycling factories

After that, the 2017 ban by China on importing waste materials and recycling such materials, opened up the floodgates for the kingdom.

Consequently, this saw Chinese entrepreneurs establishing factories and facilities throughout Thailand.

Significantly, these are operated by Thai registered companies with many Chinese owners not resident full-time in Thailand. They are regular travellers between the two countries.

In the meantime, their investments are categorised as inward investment.

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