Amnesty International Calls For Relocation of Sulfuric Acid Plant in Northwestern Myanmar

myanmar-salingyi-township-sagaing-region-map-july-2016.PNG The map shows Salingyi township in Yinmabin district of northwestern Myanmar's Sagaing region.

An international rights group called on the Myanmar government on Wednesday to immediately relocate a sulfuric acid factory situated close to a village, which continues to operate despite serious concerns about its health and environmental effects.

London-based Amnesty International said residents of Kankone village, Salingyi township, in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region, told the group in June that emissions from the Moe Gyo Sulfuric Acid Factory are causing respiratory, skin and eye problems.

They also said high levels of sulfate from the emissions have damaged crops.

“Myanmar’s government must intervene immediately and stop the operations of the sulfuric acid factory,” said the group’s international business and human rights researcher Mark Dummett in a statement. “The factory must be relocated to an area where it can’t endanger anybody’s health.”

State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi headed an investigative committee in 2013 that looked into the nine-year-old factory which supplies sulfuric acid to two copper mines—Letpadaung, and the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung mines, Amnesty said.

“The committee found that the company that runs the factory had built it without securing permission from local authorities,” it said.

The Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL), owned by the country’s powerful military, subsequently received permission to keep the factory running in July 2013, Amnesty said.

UMEHL runs both the mines as joint ventures with China’s Wanbao Mining Copper Limited Company.

A criminal offense

Amnesty went on to say that although it is a criminal offense in the country to operate a factory without permission, the central government did not investigate the issue and failed to impose any sanctions on UMEHL’s owners for illegally operating the factory from 2007 to 2013.

But the current permit will expire in October, said Myint Kyi, municipal minister of Sagaing region.

Regional officials have already suggested to the central government that the factory be relocated after they conducted an investigation of the plant.

“The Sagaing regional government sent out what we found from the investigation of the factory to the Union government, including data on environmental and health issues,” Myint Kyi said. “Many villagers told us to move the factory because the smell from it is really bad.”

Regional government officials sent health-care workers to the village school, which is 50 meters (164 feet) from the factory, to examine and treat ailments from the emissions, he said.

Though the previous government under former president Thein Sein granted the factory a one-year operating extension, the Sagaing government will not allow it to operate, he said.

“The Sagaing regional government will not give the factory permission to run, so I don’t know what the Union government will do,” he said. “The Union government directly controls the Ministry of Mines [which granted the operating permission]. In my opinion, the factory should be moved farther from the village.”

The new National League for Democracy (NLD) government under de factor national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which took office in early April, has announced that it plans to combine the Ministry of Mines and Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry into a new Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.

Tanintharyi region mines

In a related development, the Tanintharyi region government in southern Myanmar ordered two tin mining companies on Wednesday to temporarily halt production because they broke the country’s mining laws and damaged the environment, said Myint Maung, the region’s minister of natural resources and environmental conservation.

The regional government issued warnings at the end of May to Thai-owned Myanmar Pongpipat Company, which operates the Heinda tin ore mine, and Eastern Mining Company, which runs the Bawapin mine, he said.

“Companies have to follow rules and regulations set by the Ministry of Mines,” Myint Maung said. “I don’t want anybody to be harmed.”

Though the warning letters do not state an exact date for the suspension of operations, they indicate that the companies must repair wastewater drains that empty into nearby rivers and creeks, he said.

Myanmar Pongpipat Company has been operating since 1997, and Eastern Mining has been running since 2000.

Reported by Zarni Htun and Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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