A decision by the National Environment Board (NEB) not to appeal a Phitsanulok Administrative Court order _which called for three tambons in Tak province to be declared environmental protection zones because of cadmium contamination _ looks to be a victory for environmental responsibility in Thailand. On closer inspection, however, it's clear there is probably a long way to go before the residents of tambons Prathad Pha Daeng, Mae Tao and Mae Ku in Mae Sot district _ which have been affected by cadmium contamination _ get the compensation and cleanup they are asking for and have every right to expect.
The court order, issued on Aug 13, was in response to demands made by locals in a lawsuit lodged in December 2009 which also included the establishment of a 100 million baht health fund in each tambon and compensation of 15,000 baht a rai for damage caused to their farmland from cadmium contamination. The NEB is one of six defendants, which also include the Pollution Control Committee and the Department of Primary Industries and Mines. What is lacking so far in the legal process is an attempt to answer the all-important question of who is responsible for the cadmium contamination in the first place. That may be coming in a court ruling on a similar case scheduled for late this month.
The villagers point the blame for the high cadmium levels squarely on zinc mining operations in the area. A 2006 National Human Rights Commission report backs them up. The NHRC said Padaeng Industries' zinc mining operations had been discharging toxic substances into natural streams, leading to heavy metal contamination in the environment and cadmium poisoning among villagers. ''The cadmium contamination in the rice fields and natural streams did not happen naturally as state agencies and the company have claimed, but was caused by the company's mining operation,'' the report said. The NHRC also said the Mines Department was negligent in failing to get the private company to implement more environmental impact mitigation measures.
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