History of Failed Clean-Up Efforts

What has happened to date by way of a clean-up has been piecemeal and ineffective. In 1999, the Pollution Control Department ordered the company that operated the lead processing factory, Lead Concentrate (Thailand) Co. Ltd., to dredge 2.5 kilometers of the creek to remove some of the lead-laden sediment. Afterwards, the department found that the company had dumped much of the sediment on the creek’s edge, in improper landfills, where it risked being washed back into the creek.[26] In 2002, the department built two dams across the creek to try to stop the spread of lead sediment downstream; a subsequent academic study showed those dams to be ineffective.[27]

In January 2001, a department official was cited in Thai media as claiming that a master-plan for the cleanup of Klity Creek was imminent and that it would involve dredging the river over four to five years, then burying the sediment in a landfill site.[28]

However neither that master-plan nor any other eventuated. Instead, in 2005, the National Environment Board— the government committee overseeing the Pollution Control Department and formalizing environmental policies—officially adopted the policy of “natural remediation” of Klity Creek.[29] It was this policy that the supreme administrative court criticized for leaving the local residents with contaminated drinking water for an undeterminably long period of time.[30]  

Consistent with its obligations under international human rights law, the Thai government is obligated to promptly implement the decision of the supreme administrative court to clean up Klity Creek. Thailand is party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Both treaties place obligations on governments to protect the health of its citizens, with a special emphasis on children.[31] In international law, the right to health also entails the right to an effective remedy for violations of the right.[32]

Safe drinking water and sanitation are a human right and derive from the right to an adequate standard of living, found in (among other treaties) the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.[33] In July 2010, Thailand voted in the UN General Assembly to “[recognize] the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”[34]

There are existing academic studies addressing how to carry out the clean-up.[35] Regardless of how the department proceeds, the clean-up should be thorough in accordance with the supreme administrative court decision. The plan should be developed in close consultation with the local residents and involve ongoing negotiations based on open and transparent dialogue. Broad participation of the community is necessary and special effort should be made to ensure women and girls are engaged in consultations.

To avoid exacerbating residents’ exposure to lead, the plan should anticipate disruptions to food and water sources—including the differential impact such disruptions might have on women, children, and persons with disabilities—during the actual clean-up and establish viable alternatives that mitigates negative impacts.

Klity Creek is an opportunity for Thailand’s Pollution Control Department to establish a model that could be replicated elsewhere in the country. Rapid economic development in Thailand has led to widespread environmental pollution. At other locations where industrial pollution threatens the health and livelihood of local residents, the Pollution Control Department confronts similar or related challenges to those it faces at Klity Creek.

In 2011, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment‘s Department of Mineral Resources commissioned a strategic environmental assessment to guide it in its decision whether to reopen Kanchanaburi province for lead mining.[36] Human Rights Watch believes that a thorough clean-up of Klity Creek is required before Thailand can accurately assess the potential costs and benefits of reopening lead mining in Kanchanaburi province.

Individuals from Lower Klity Creek village continue to be exposed to toxic lead— as they have for decades. Many continue to suffer life-long, irreversible effects on their health and well-being, without being able to avoid the source of the poisoning. Many parents experience the mental anguish of knowing that they are raising their children in an environment that threatens their children’s futures. It is time that Thailand’s government took long-overdue steps to protect their health.