An administrative court in the Thai town of Nakhon Sawan said four authorities had neglected their duties regarding a dangerous landfill in Petchaboon province, despite having evidence of groundwater contamination. While there is still the possibility that the other side will appeal, the speed of this decision alone is a historic breakthrough.
Fourteen Ban Muang Chum village residents filed a lawsuit against government officials for negligence on May 6, 2022. According to the lawsuit, residents have been exposed to pollution caused by the landfill owned by Aek Uthai for four years while officials ignored their complaints. The company took over the dump in 2016, soon after which locals noticed a foul smell. Subsequently, the situation worsened as water quality in wells near the site began to deteriorate. Despite complaints, the problems persisted, and negotiations with the company went nowhere, resulting in widespread protests.
In late 2021, the Pollution Control Department (PCD) and the Department of Groundwater Resources (DGR) found that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals were present inside the plant and in the wells of residents at levels that exceeded permitted standards. Nevertheless, the Department of Industrial Works (DIW) decided to grant the company permission to open a second landfill. With this, the villagers' cup of patience has run over. They decided to file a case against Aek Uthai and several authorities. The court heard the suit on an expedited basis as a case that could not bear delay. In their judgment, the judges said the four authorities had neglected their duties concerning pollution caused by the dump.
The judges ordered them to comply with their obligations within 30 days and take action against the environmental damage faced by residents. If Aek Uthai cannot comply with their directions within this period, penalties will follow. Penchom Saetang, director of Ecological Alert and Recovery - Thailand (EARTH) , explained what may follow: “Article 39 (of the Factory Act from 1992, which the judges referred to, author's note) contains a clause to suspend the factory to resolve the ongoing problem, as well as a clause to revoke the facility's operating permit. The court decision clearly states that Aek Uthai is a pollution source and gives officials specific instructions. All this will be very important for the subsequent implementation of the court order. I congratulate the residents on this achievement.“
While there is still the possibility that the other side will appeal, the speed of this decision alone is a historic breakthrough. Chamnan Sirirak, an environmental lawyer and counsel for the residents, said this is the first environmental administrative action to be decided in three months. Ms. Orawan, a villager from Ban Muang Chum, said of the court's decision: “We are so happy about this ruling. For so long, locals have been fighting, shouting for someone to hear us. Finally, we are making concrete steps towards a solution. I believe this experience has made our community stronger and more ready to be vigilante of further environmental problems.”
 Ecological Alert and Recovery - Thailand (EARTH) is an independent non-governmental organization striving for social and environmental sustainability and justice in Thai society. EARTH focuses on the impacts of hazardous substances on ecosystems, local communities, and workers’ health. Read more at www.earththailand.org/en.