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Posts from the ‘Mines’ Category

Break in Toxic Tailings Pond Fuels Villagers’ Fight Against Gold Mine

2012 November 21
by The Isaan Record

LOEI – In the past month, the walls of a gold mine’s tailings pond in Na Nong Bong, Loei have collapsed not once but three times. The tailings pond, which holds the waste water used to dissolve the gold from the ore, contains extremely high levels of cyanide and other chemicals used in the extraction process. As such, the community members from the neighboring village, located just one kilometer from the Tungkum Limited mine, are channeling their fear of the effects into their ongoing fight to close the mine.

People Who Love Their Hometown (PWLTH), a community organization comprised of concerned villagers, has been fighting to close the mine since 2006 in attempts to mitigate the contamination of their food and water. Since the gold mine began its operations, the villagers have experienced lower crop yields, skin rashes, and high levels of cyanide and arsenic in their blood which they attribute to contamination from mining operations. As such, the leak from the tailings pond, which contains cyanide and other dangerous chemicals, has given them greater cause for concern.

“On the 28th of October, the day the wall collapsed for the second time,” explained one of the leaders of PWLTH, “We found that that the water leaked out into some of the farms that were growing yard long beans. The farmers couldn’t harvest because there was water in their fields. We didn’t know whether or not the water was dangerous or not.”

The villagers were the first to report the leak to the government offices after a member of PWLTH found unexpected water in his field. The villagers sent a report to the Provincial Industry Office (PIO) as well as the Department of Primary Industry and Mining (DPIM) and then contacted the Tambon Administration Organization (TAO) to survey the area.

On October 30th, the TAO sent a committee to investigate the broken wall as well as the quality of the water that leaked from the pond.  The TAO reported, “TKL has admitted the wall did collapse and that they have been continuously repairing the damage to the wall of the tailings pond.”

The community, however, is still not fully convinced that there will be no lasting effects from the leak.

“It is necessary for the company to warn the people,” said one of the leaders from PWLTH. “We don’t know whether or not this water is dangerous, because no tests have been done on the water. But we are scared of what the effects might be.”

In response to the villagers’ report, the DPIM issued an order to the company to shut down operations until the situation was resolved. The company appealed to the PIO, however, claiming that they were working in accordance with Article 58 of the Mineral Act and, furthermore, that they needed to continue mining in order to acquire specific rocks needed to repair the break that can only come through the crushing process. At present, the mining company, which has assured the government they are working to fortify the tailings pond wall, is still operating.

The leak comes at a particularly pivotal moment for PWLTH, as Tungkum Limited will be holding a public scoping forum on the 22nd of this month. The forum, which has been postponed four times already due to protests staged by the community organization, is one step in the process of obtaining concessions for opening a new mining site near the existing one. The members of PWLTH, however, hope that the news of the tailings pond leak will strengthen their case for the decommissioning of the current mine as well as halting concessions for the newly proposed mine.

Tungkum Limited, which has been in hot water with its shareholders and the Stock Exchange of Thailand over the past year for alleged financial mismanagement, now has more to worry about.

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Fields of Mine: Na Nong Bong, Thailand

2011 September 30
by The Isaan Record

YouTube Version 

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.]

Udon Demonstrators Arrested, Transmission Line Nears Completion

2011 May 29
by The Isaan Record

UDON THANI – Sanong Chaiyanataan sits on his porch in Kumphawapi district, transmission towers fading out of sight in either direction. There is a pit in his backyard and 15 people have been arrested on his land.

Just 24 hours earlier, on Friday morning, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) tried to push ahead with plans to erect two 500-kV transmission towers on Mr. Sanong’s property despite his rejection of an inadequate compensation offer. EGAT’s attempt to gain entry, however, was met by a group of 30 neighbors and student activists blocking the entrance to Mr. Sanong’s land in Ban Lao Kluay village. That afternoon, Udon Thani Police dispelled the protest, arrested 15 demonstrators, and opened the path for a backhoe to begin the construction the state enterprise has long awaited.

Demonstrators stand their ground as EGAT's construction crew tries to advance.

In 2007, EGAT began planning a power transmission line from Nam Ngum 2 Dam in Laos to Udon Thani in Northeast Thailand. At first, a community action group sprung up to fight the line’s development, but recently their membership numbers have dwindled into the low teens. EGAT has managed to strike enough deals with Isaan’s landowners to erect more than 150 transmission towers, and now it must construct only three more in order to complete the project.

Though the line of transmission towers extends as far as the eye can see, Mr. Sanong and his siblings refused to sell EGAT this final access point since the family was never offered the market price of their land.

“We want this project to be canceled but we are open to negotiations with EGAT,” explained Adoon Bhunyarot, Mr. Sanong’s brother-in-law and co-owner of the land. “We have invested 60,000 baht to prepare the land to build a house here. The property is worth 700,000 baht and EGAT wants to pay us only 100,000 baht. This property has been a 16-year investment,” he added.

Udon Thani EGAT officials declined to comment.

Ban Lao Kluay locals are particularly disgruntled because they claim that EGAT disregarded the National Human Rights Commission’s May 25th resolution to pause construction until the company reaches an agreement with the landowners. Now, EGAT has moved ahead with its plans for construction without Mr. Sanong’s consent, and those arrested face charges for violating the Energy Industry Act of 2007, a law that authorizes EGAT to access any and all land it needs.

The inevitable complications with eminent domain, however, were not the only concerns of Friday’s protesters. When Ban Lao Kluay inhabitants began their fight against EGAT four years ago, they sought the help of nearby Ban Sang Khom, a village well known for its community organizing in an 11-year battle against a proposed potash mine. Mani Boonrod, a Ban Sang Khom local and figurehead of the anti-mining movement, attended the protest at Mr. Sanong’s home with fears of her own.

“Villagers [in Ban Sang Khom] know that this electricity project is not for ordinary people, us, but for the potash-mine company,” the Udon Preservation Network’s leader said. “The power lines will affect local villagers’ farming, but the potash mine will affect their health.”

Ban Lao Kluay villagers are also convinced the power will not be allocated for local community members, who use very little electricity themselves, but rather for large-scale development projects such as mines.

“What is this project even for?” Mr. Sanong asked, looking down into the fresh pit in his field. “We villagers have enough energy here. We don’t use nearly as much as the factories.”

As Mr. Sanong sat back down on his porch, an NGO activist, who asked to remain anonymous, probed him further. “Some people fight for their lives, some people fight for their dignity. What are you fighting for?”

Mr. Sanong shook his head and flashed a smile. He said nothing in response.

[UPDATE: June 1, 2011 – “EGAT Protection Act of 1968″ has been changed to “Energy Industry Act of 2007.”]

Demonstrators Storm Loei Hotel, Rally Against Mining Meeting

2011 April 9
by The Isaan Record


LOEI – Over nine hundred villagers thwarted a local company’s attempt on April 7th to hold a public hearing regarding the establishment of a nearby copper mine.  Flooding the open-air lobby of the Loei Palace Hotel in the Muang district, Huay Muang villagers and their supporters waved flags and chanted into bullhorns as they barricaded the doors to the proposed meeting room.

Demonstrators came together to express their concerns that the Puthep Company’s mine could have adverse environmental effects on the Hin Lek Fai Mountain, which provides for the livelihood of many people in the region.

Villagers from Huay Muang grew concerned about mining’s potential dangers when they learned about their neighbors in Na Nong Bong, a village caught between two gold mines just 30 kilometers away. There, villagers have complained of contaminated water destroying their crops and causing skin ailments.

In addition, a 2010 study conducted by the Loei Provincial Office of Public Health and Wang Saphung Hospital found that almost 500 villagers who live near the mines have mercury and cyanide levels that exceed safety standards. These numbers seem to confirm concerns of even those in Bangkok. It has been reported that the Cabinet recently asked the Industry Ministry to refrain from granting mining concessions before further researching the potential effects of mines.

Sukan Boonkerd, a Huay Muang native and activist, held fast to the lessons of Na Nong Bong when his organization, The Loei Province Nework, organized Thursday morning’s event. “We are 100% against this mine” he told reporters.

Not all of those in attendance, however, were as strongly opposed as Mr. Sukan. “I didn’t come to support the mine, but I still wanted to hear what the company had to say,” a villager said as she picked at a box lunch provided by the mining company.

Students from the Khon Kaen activist group Dao Din lock arms with villagers as they block the main entrance to the Loei Palace Hotel.

Nevertheless, Mr. Sukan insisted that this event was not a protest against a public hearing. “We want the hearing to be accessible to all the 2,000 people who would be directly affected by this mine,” the village leader said.

He added that if the company had made the meeting more accommodating, people would have attended. Mr. Sukan was referring to the 250-seat meeting room that Puthep Co. reserved for the hearing, a space far too small to allow for the participation of thousands of villagers that could be impacted.

Puthep Co., a subsidiary of Australia’s PanAust Ltd. and Thailands’ Padeang Industry Ltd., had organized the public hearing to serve as an early step in the drafting of an environmental impact assessment (EIA). The 2007 Thai constitution mandates the implementation of EIAs to analyze the potential risks of large-scale development projects.

Of the more than 20 mineral extraction projects in Isaan, many are located on mountains, in forests, and near wetlands. Rural villagers, 90% of whom are farmers, seek to maintain access to these intact environments not only for their livelihood, but also for their sustenance and culture.

In the face of these challenges, communities from across the Northeast have banded together in a show of solidarity against mining. Just two days before the Huay Muang demonstration, Udon Thani citizens fighting against the construction of a potash mine drew over 700 participants, some of whom hailed from Huay Muang and Na Nong Bong.

Mr. Wit, a community leader from Na Nong Bong, explained why he attended Thursday’s event at the Loei Palace Hotel. “We support villagers in Huay Muang and Udon Thani because we all face the same struggles. We hope they will help us fight as well.”