By Max Constant
BANGKOK (AA) – A mining firm has complained to the Thai junta after its license to operate a gold mine in the country’s north was not renewed following reports of widespread pollution by heavy metals, local media reported Monday.
The external affairs director of Akara Resources Plc, a Thai subsidiary of Australian mining corporation Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd, told the Bangkok Post that the firm would fight “to the end” to defend their authority.
“We would like the government to review this cabinet resolution and we hope it will do so,” said Cherdsak Utha-aroon.
Earlier this month, the junta said it would not renew the license of Akara Resources, which has been operating in Phichit province since 2001, or any other gold mining companies, paving the way for their closure by the end of the year.
It remained unclear how many gold mines are operating in Thailand and would be affected by the decision, which came amid concerns among villagers and experts who considered such activities to be responsible for arsenic and manganese contamination.
In a rare demonstration of support for villagers’ concern over company interests, junta leader-cum-prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced May 10 that “there will no longer be any gold mines by the end of this year”.
The decision came unexpectedly as a recent health inspection had not been carried out in the area around the mine.
In 2014 and 2015, however, more than 1,000 residents in communities near the site straddling the borders of Phichit, Petchabun and Phitsanulok provinces were tested by the Central Institute of Forensic Science, a unit under central Thailand’s Rangsit University, and by the Ministry of Public Health.
The tests showed that 41.8 percent of those tested had high levels of manganese in their blood.
Many of the residents in villages around the mine have left for other provinces due to health concerns.
Provincial authorities provide water and vegetables to the remaining villagers as experts deem it unsafe for them to drink underground water and eat produce grown locally.
Cherdsak Utha-aroon of Akara Resources Plc denies that the high levels of heavy metals detected in some villagers’ blood is linked to gold mining operations.
While he recognized that experts found a high presence of manganese in samples of underground water, he told the Bangkok Post that similar levels of the substance were found “in many areas nationwide where there are no gold mines”.
He also expressed his surprise with the junta’s decision, as a panel composed of health experts, civil servants, villagers, academics and Akara representatives is currently examining pollution and health complaints.
“We are waiting for the time when the panel discloses the findings, which should be based on scientific information. We are confident it will be able to present the facts to the public,” he underlined.
He added that the junta decision risks eroding the confidence of foreign investors and will lead to hundreds of villagers losing their jobs at the mine.
Last Friday, 300 residents of Phichit and Petchabun filed a lawsuit against Akara Resources Plc, seeking around $14 million in compensation for what they allege are the health and environmental impacts of the gold mining operation.
Akara Resources Plc has a concession until 2028 but its license needs to be renewed every year.