Fields of Mine: Na Nong Bong, Thailand

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LOEI – Last February, the farmers of Na Nong Bong village won a small victory in their battle against the gold mine in their backyard. After years of organizing and petitioning for health tests, these bean and rice farmers had prepared their case against Tungkum Limited mining company. And, on February 8, the cabinet of former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva voted to stop the company from opening new mines, pending further research on the causes of villagers’ health problems.

Tungkum Limited began constructing two gold mines in Wang Saphung District of Loei in 2006. When the mining company began digging, the villagers began to notice changes. They reported rashes and stinging eyes, plummeting crop yields, and higher cases of illness.

It was not until 2009, however, that news of the village made its first waves. To appease the protesting villagers, the Ministry of Health tested local water sources. They found high levels of contaminants and ordered villagers not to use the local water or eat affected vegetables and fish. Farmers who had traditionally relied on their land for nourishment were now asked to buy food and water from city markets.

Concerned about the health effects of the contaminated water, the villagers petitioned the Ministry of Health for blood tests. On February 2 of this year, the ministry published that 124 of 725 villagers had high levels of cyanide in their blood and 50 of 708 villagers had high levels of mercury. In just one week’s time, the cabinet had paused Tungkum’s expansion.

The mining company, however, takes no responsibility for local contamination. They comply with government regulations, their drainage does not interfere with village water, their tailings pond is not leaking, and their operational area, they claim, complies with international standards. But relevant government agencies do not do research of their own and instead rely on Tungkum’s contracted researchers to confirm that operations are safe.

Though they have succeeded in slowing down Tungkum’s expansion, Na Nong Bong and its five neighboring villages are not celebrating. They are still fighting for the day when Tungkum’s mine, just 500 meters away, shuts down.

For the full story, watch the video above.

[Correction: October 7, 2011 – Tungkum Mining Company, a subisidiary of Tongkah Harbor, was founded by Australians but the company is now publicly traded in the Thai stock exchange. We apologize for this confusion. The article and video have been edited to reflect this change.]

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