EARTH Thailand

Surveys find dangerously high levels of arsenic contamination at Loei mine

The Nation 29 June 2017 | Pratch Rujivanarom

BANGKOK: -- Recent surveys performed by the environmental foundation Ecological Alert and Recovery-Thailand (EARTH) have found severe contamination of heavy metals such as arsenic and cadmium near a gold mine in Loei, with the pollution blamed for causing local residents to become sick.

The latest data on heavy metal contamination and local people’s health were disclosed at an academic seminar about the Loei gold mine held by EARTH and Kumamoto Gakuen University from Japan at Kasetsart University on Thursday.

The survey concluded that there was a dangerous amount of heavy metal contamination in soil samples from around the gold mine.

Akkarapol Tiebtaisong, a technical officer with EARTH, said surveys were conducted in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016, with all four finding higher amounts of arsenic than was considered safe.

“The area where we have found heavy contamination of arsenic was at the Huay Lek stream, just downstream from the tailing pond. We found in all four surveys that this area always had high amounts of arsenic, more than safe levels,” Akkarapol said.

The tailing pond is where waterborne refuse from the mine is stored.

According to the 2016 survey, a soil sample from the stream had arsenic levels of up to 162 milligrams per kilogram of soil.

Akkarapol said it was an indication that there might be a leakage of heavy metals from the tailing pond to the outside environment.

The results from the 2015 survey of the same area also showed arsenic levels of up to 121mg/kg, while in 2013 the level was 520mg/kg and in 2012 its was 68.9mg/kg.

“This is an unacceptable threat to people’s health, so there needs to be immediate action from the gold mine company and the relevant agencies to stop the spreading of toxic heavy metals from the mine and a restoration of the area,” Akkarapol said.

The mine is operated by Thung Kham Co.

A health survey done by the Loei Provincial Public Health Office and EARTH also showed that people were already falling sick due to the heavy metals contamination, as a health survey in 2015 found that 64 per cent of local people had higher than safe arsenic levels in their bodies.

The Loei Provincial Public Health Office also found 21 people suffered from arsenical keratosis, which can change the skin pigment and be a precursor of skin cancer, that indicated prolonged exposure to high amounts of arsenic.