Fire at Laem Chabang raises questions about the EEC

The recent fire on a container ship at Laem Chabang Port has raised concerns over the environmental impact of the Laem Chabang Phase 3 expansion, which is designed to link with the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) mega project.
“The current environmental problem has not been effectively addressed, and now the government embarks on a new project,” said Thanaporn Vichan, a member of Thai Labour Solidarity Committee.
People in the EEC area are urging the government to consider their well-being, as well as the environmental impact of industrialization, she said.
During the morning of May 25th, a fire broke out on the Korean-registered vessel KMTC Hongkong, which took 18 hours to extinguish. Many people were injured, mainly suffering eye, throat and skin irritation.
As of press time, the authorities were attempting to identify the owner of the hazardous cargo, why it was shipped from China to Thailand and how such a large quantity of chemicals managed to dock at Laem Chabang without the knowledge of the Thai authorities.
The lax supervision raises questions over the operation of Laem Chabang Port. The Laem Chabang Port Phase 3 expansion is one of the mega projects of the Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha government.
Once complete, the population in the EEC is expected to increase from 3.93 million people in 2016 to 4.38 million people in 2022 and 6 million by 2037.
However, without environmental protection measures, the area can be easily polluted and could become a dumping ground for industrial waste from overseas, especially since countries, including China, have cracked down hard on imports of such waste.
Chalermpol Palaprom, a representative of workers in the eastern province and Laem Chabang, said that the government should not place priority on GDP growth while ignoring the impacts on people, adding “High GDP growth does not always lift the well-being of workers.”
To speed up mega project investment, the government has relaxed rules on environmental and health impact assessments for a number of large-scale projects. The military-government invoked Article 44 to allow these projects to go ahead without having to pass an environmental assessment, reasoning that the mega projects are needed to boost the country’s economic growth.
The EEC office reported that the government plans to spend Bt13.572 billion from 2018-2021 on 86 projects under its environment management strategy in the EEC.
Dr. Raweewan Bhuridej, Secretary General of Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning, said priority will given to 14 projects with a budget of Bt8.615 billion to solve the environment problems.
One such project is to address current environmental issues and waste management. Otherwise, the amount of industrial waste, infectious waste and waste water will double in the next 20 years.
The volume of polluted water in the EEC is likely to increase to 1.19 million cubic meters per day by 2037 from 545,769 cubic meters per day in 2016. However, the current waste water treatment capacity is only 145,985 cubic meters per day, or 26.75% of the total volume.
The three eastern provinces produce over 4,268 tons of waste per day, based on the figures in 2016. However, they have the capacity to treat only 42.8%.
Additionally, there are no clear guidelines on how to dispose of infectious waste from hospitals and various medical facilities. Most hospitals hire companies to collect and dispose of this waste and these companies tend to dump hazardous trash at various locations, potentially impacting the health of nearby residents. In 2017, the three provinces produced almost 5,000 tons of in infectious waste, up 26.87% on 2016.


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