Statement Of Greenpeace Southeast Asia On The Recent Spillage Of Toxic And Hazardous Substance

Acrylonitrile at Yommaraj-Chaeng Wattana Tollway

Press release - September 11, 2001
The unfortunate disaster involving the spillage of the highly toxic chemical acrylonitrile at one of the busiest expressways in Bangkok last week should serve as a wake up call to the nation. Those responsible for this disaster, the plastics company, the trailer truck management and government agencies led by Pollution Control Department and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration should ensure that incidents of this nature must not happen again, particularly given the authorities' appalling lack of expertise to respond to such type of accidents.

The unfortunate disaster involving the spillage of the highly toxic chemical acrylonitrile at one of the busiest expressways in Bangkok last week should serve as a wake up call to the nation. Those responsible for this disaster, the plastics company, the trailer truck management and government agencies led by Pollution Control Department and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration should ensure that incidents of this nature must not happen again, particularly given the authorities' appalling lack of expertise to respond to such type of accidents.

To prevent serious chemical accidents of this kind in the future, Greenpeace proposes that the Thai Department of Transportation immediately impose a ban on the transport and shipping of hazardous materials through highly populated areas. Notwithstanding the heroic though insufficient acts of emergency response personnel, this incident could have been more catastrophic. The potential for very serious accidents involving large numbers of injuries and fatalities, especially for toxic materials, is widely recognized and can never be underestimated. While incidents of this nature do not occur everyday, these accidents can have enormous impacts if and when they happen. Failure to identify and evaluate opportunities to reduce the risks from these types of accidents could ultimately lead to thousands of fatalities, injuries and evacuations.

Equally important, the Thai public has a right to know the frequency and the amounts by which toxic and hazardous chemicals are transported using the country's highways and through populated communities at any given time. Greenpeace believes that this type of information should be made publicly available to at least inform residents about the regular risks they are being exposed to.

This kind of catastrophe is unacceptable. But it is also completely preventable. By prohibiting the transport and shipment of these materials through populated areas, one can dramatically reduce the numbers of exposed people. However, to eliminate these risks for all communities, the government immediately convene an inter-agency and multi-stakeholder task force with strong representatives from civil society to address these hazards.

Greenpeace deplores this accident caused anew by corporate recklessness. When all is said and done, the chemical industry has no right to expose unsuspecting populations to toxics pollution, either through their normal production and disposal operations or even via unintended spills like this recent disaster. The company involved should rightfully compensate victims of this latest episode of blatant poisoning by the chemical industry.

But more importantly and in the long term, Greenpeace believes that Thailand should reflect on the experiences of other countries in this area. They have recommended ending the use of these toxic chemicals on their own and as feedstock to equally dangerous chemicals such as chlorine and chlorine-containing compounds.Only if industry ends its dependence on these super toxic chemicals and embrace clean production practices, will we see less of these types of disasters.

Notes: According to toxicology experts, the chemical acrylonitrile is extremely hazardous especially when exposure happens indoors and chemical is trapped in unventilated rooms. It is of utmost concern to us at Greenpeace Southeast Asia that the children at Bangkok School for the Blind and the Phayathai Babies' Home Foundation still face great risk. All rooms at the said buildings and in the vicinity should have been aired out completely before they were brought back from a quick evacuation. The protective masks provided to the children and adults after the accident were not good enough to stop them from inhaling the toxic chemical. Greenpeace demands that the Thai government ensure that the buildings and the vicinity are completely safe from contamination before they allow the children to go back. Thai authorities claim that it is now safe, at least in the short term after a quick and not so thorough evaluation. The cumulative effects on the victims especially those directly exposed to the toxin should be greater cause for alarm and the health authorities need to avert this potentially serious problem immediately.

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