Plastics company dumps toxic chemicals into Chao Praya River

Greenpeace demands for shutdown, gov't mandate for strict measures.

Feature story - July 8, 2004
Activists from environmental group Greenpeace today climbed the large spherical storage tank of Thai Plastics and Chemicals Plc (TPC) in Samut Prakan, which contains the highly toxic and carcinogenic chemical Vinyl Chloride Monomer(1), and hang a banner that declares "Cancer Starts Here".

Greenpeace is demanding that factory operations be shut down after finding evidence that wastewater containing a chemical that can cause cancer and pose threats to the environment are being discharged by the company into the Chao Praya River.

"This facility, used to manufacture PVC, is clearly a source of hazardous chemicals that can cause serious damage to Chao Praya River, the environment and the community. We are here today to demand an immediate shut down of all production at the plant until an action plan has been implemented to prevent any further discharge of toxic chemicals into the river. In addition, sediments below the TPC discharge pipes that are contaminated with persistent and bio-accumulating chemicals used in PVC formulations must also be addressed," said Tara Buakamsri, Toxics Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. "We also want the company to ensure that they will put a just transition process for workers at the factory while the facility is closed."

Scientists from Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter in England noted that effluent from the main discharge pipe of the factory contained a range of toxic chemicals, including VCM at a relatively high concentration (2). Some of the chemicals found in sediments directly below TPC discharge pipes are persistent in the environment, able to bio-accumulate, and may enter the aquatic and human food chains.

"Stringent legislation specifically addressing the production, use and releases of these types of hazardous and toxic chemicals from industrial facilities would offer greater protection for the environment and human health. Such approaches, however, will never fully address the problem of complex waste streams from PVC production that can contain toxic and persistent chemicals. The only real solution is to work toward the cessation of discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous substances through the progressive substitution of chlorine-chemistry and chlorinated products with non-chlorinated and non-hazardous alternatives," said Kevin Bridgen, Scientist from the Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter in England.

TPC has a history of environmental abuses. In 1993, a ship containing VCM sank before unloading its cargo at the same TPC facility. The chemical reportedly leaked into the Chao Praya River. In 1994, TPC was also one of 274 factories along the Chao Praya River suspected by the Environment Commission of the House of Representatives of discharging untreated wastewater into the river.

In 2003, Greenpeace sent out a questionnaire to TPC as part of survey of more than 900 multinationals and joint-venture companies with facilities in Thailand to assess their willingness to provide information on their use of toxic chemicals to the Thai public. There was no response from TPC.

Greenpeace is calling that urgent action be taken by the government to review the discharges of approximately 1000 other plants discharging their wastes into the Chao Praya River. Government agencies must fully assess what is being discharged and what type of risks are being faced by the Thai public and the environment.

"The current voluntary Thai Responsible Care Program of which TPC is an active part has failed to address the problem. We ask the Thai Government to replace it with a mandatory Toxic Release Inventory which would require companies to publicly list all transport and releases of toxic and hazardous chemicals in the country," Buakamsri added.

Under its "Save the Gulf of Thailand - Our Food Basket" project, Greenpeace is campaigning for the protection of the marine resources and ecosystem of the Gulf of Thailand and tributaries that lead to it from toxic pollution and the release of hazardous substances.

Notes to editors:

1) Vinyl Chloride Monomer (VCM) is used in the manufacture of PVC plastic at the TPC facility

2) The scientific report entitled "Chemical Pollutants Released from the Thai Plastic and Chemicals PVC Facility to the Chao Praya River, Samut Prakarn, Thailand " provides details of toxic chemicals found in samples collected from the factory == including the volatile and toxic organochlorine vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) at the relatively high concentration of 338 microgram per liter in discharged effluent. The concentration of VCM in TPC's effluent was above acceptable discharge limits for an equivalent plant in the USA. Sediments below discharge pipes also contained chemicals used as additives in PVC formulations including compounds known as phthalates, two of which are classified within the European Union as "toxic to reproduction".

3) Thai Plastics and Chemicals Public Company Ltd is the largest PVC company in Thailand with interests and clients in China, Hong Kong and the ASEAN countries.