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  • Bueng Huai Jod is a natural marsh covering 600 rai of land in Nam Phong district, Khon Kaen province. In the past, it was a fishing area for villagers and water source for farmers. Now it is a holding pond for factory wastewater discharge. It became increasingly polluted between 1992-1998, causing fish stocks to die. To address the problem, government agencies repeatedly ordered factories in the area to close. They did but later reopened with the result that marsh water quality remains polluted.
  • Bueng Huai Jod Marsh is the responsibility of Regional Irrigation Office 6, Royal Irrigation Department.  A neighboring administrative office in Kud Nam Sai municipality has no authority to manage the area.
  • When problems arise, Kud Nam Sai officials can only inspect local factories to make sure they are complying with environmental laws. The municipality has also been monitoring sediment in the marsh which contains contaminants out of concern that it will pollute the nearby Nam Phong River. 

“(Factory owners) are lucky to be here. They have a natural wastewater pond which discharges into Nam Phong River… nature treats their wastewater for them,” explained Paradorn Sripho, President of Nam Phong River Basin Environmental Conservation for Quality of Life Association. He was talking about environmental problems caused by the Phoenix pulp and paper factory in Khon Kaen province. He was being sarcastic. 

Bueng Huai Jod, a 600 rai marsh located in Kud Nam Sai sub-district, Nam Phong district, Khon Kaen province, used to be a fishing area for villagers and water source for area farmers. Now it is a place where factory wastewater settles before draining into the Nam Phong River. It has been a problem for 37 years.    

The factory responsible for the pollution belongs to Phoenix Pulp & Paper Public Company Limited. It is located on a 1,065 rai area in Kud Nam Sai sub-district, Nam Phong district. It was established in 1975 and began production in 1982. In its first 4 years of operation, it created massive environmental problems. The water in local waterways stank of pollution and aquatic animals died off.

Sakorn Prasa, Huai Jod villager

Sakorn Prasa, a Huai Jod villager, recalled that before the factory came, villagers used marsh water to plant rice and the marsh to catch fish. Later, when the factories released their wastewater, the its water began to stink, even though a water quality device they installed indicated that it was not polluted.

“My parents used to catch fish in the marsh but not anymore. There are more water hyacinth there than before and the water is bad because of the wastewater that factories discharge,” said Warakorn Saosiri, another Huai Jod villager.

Water quality measurement device installed at Bueng Huai Jod marsh, indicating the value of Acidic pH, Alkaline pH (pH) and the quantity of Dissolved Oxygen (DO) (Photo by Tatiya Trachu)

Closed three times, Phoenix Pulp & Paper factory is still operating. Over the course of four decades, it has been one of the more environmentally-problematic industrial concerns in the Northeast.

It was shut down for the first time in April 1992 after a production expansion left it unable to treat wastewater to specified standards.  A second closure was ordered in May of 1993 after the factory violated wastewater standards, resulting in a 15 km-long fish kill in Bueng Jod Marsh and the linked Nong Wai irrigation weir.    

A third shut down was between July 1998 – January 1999 when an inspection found that factory discharge caused massive damage to area fish farms. Wastewater had been discharged to so-called Green Project eucalyptus plantations. Phoenix claimed that this would solve the pollution problem.  After the factory was allowed to expand its capacity, this proved not to be the case.  According to Paradorn, polluted ‘Green Project’ wastewater was found to have seeped into Nam Phong River.

Orders to shut the factory down were insufficient to solve the pollution problem. Local people had to make demands to the Ministry of Industry. In 2001, Nam Phong villagers came to Bangkok to ask that authorities scrap the Green Project. They did so because its wastewater was still impacting area agricultural practices and fish farms.   

According to Phoenix executives, its Khon Kaen factories stopped discharging wastewater into natural waterways in 1997. They deny all responsibility for area water pollution and fish kills in local fish farms.  In discussions with media representatives in January 2014, a company spokesperson confirmed that as a result of concerns over wastewater odour, inspections continue to be made to protect public health and the environment.   

In terms of the government sector, officials from Environment Office Region 10, Khon Kaen, in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment are responsible for assuring Phoenix’s compliance with measures to prevent environmental impacts.  They regularly attend presentations and enter the factory to inspect the pulp production process, power plant operations, and the wastewater treatment system.

In addition to assuring that Phoenix complies with environmental regulations, they are also responsible for investigating heavy metal contamination in Bueng Jod Marsh to determine whether it might have been caused by factory production.  They must also be vigilant for chemical leaks and find ways to mitigate production-related odours which have long been an annoyance to people in surrounding areas.     

Water quality samples collected from the upper Chi River Basin by Pollution Control Office 10 officials in January 2023 found that river water quality ranged from fair (61-70) to degraded (31-60).  Under current guidelines, caution is advised when using water of ‘fair’ quality for agricultural purposes.

As for water in the marsh and Huai Jod Creek, it had a high level of electrical conductivity (EC) and salinity - results in keeping with  waterways where massive amounts of industrial wastewater have been stored.

A smelly problem at present

According to Somporn Saosiri, a Huai Jod villager, Phoenix wastewater is now piped elsewhere after treatment.  This allows the company to run its business and lets local people keep their jobs.  The downside is that wastewater which cannot be used and consumed is released elsewhere. Because of the water’s bad smell, local air quality is also worse, especially in April when winds from the southwest blow towards Huai Jod village. 

And factory wastewater is reportedly still contaminated with toxic substances harmful to health and nature. Paradorn notes that water samples include Cadmium (Cd), Chromium (Cr), Mercury (Hg), Nickel (Ni), Zinc (Zn), and other substances linked to the development of cancer, leptospirosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and other diseases.  

The factory next to a village in Moo 4 in Kud Nam Sai municipality, Nam Phong District, Khon Kaen province

Chaluay Prisak, another area villager, noted that bad smells from the factory were a periodic nuisance, especially during the rainy season when the air was stagnant. He added that most villagers were used to it, however. His hope was that the marsh could be restored, that it could be made into a park for villagers and residents to use or get exercise.  Anything would be better than what it is at the present.  The Royal Irrigation Department has been dredging silt waste from it but their plans are not known.  According to Chaluay, factory representatives come out to talk with villagers more often than municipal officials do.    

“As far as their public relations with the community, the factory has improved. They have a project to absorb bad odours and they are open to suggestions on how to make things better. There is a even LINE group that villagers around the factory can use to complain about problems they find,” said Chaluay.

A way out for Bueng Huai Jod Marsh?

Bueng Jod Marsh is the responsibility of Regional Irrigation Office 6 in the Royal Irrigation Department. Local administrators have no authority. When problems arise, municipal officers at the Kud Nam Sai can do little more than inspect the factory to assure that it complies with environmental regulations. The municipality also controls a Bueng Huai Jod Dredging Project removing silt that might otherwise flow into the Nam Phong River. As the silt contains dangerous contaminants, it cannot be transported out of the area. The plan is to use it to make road into the marsh, further disrupting the ecosystem. 

Bueng Huai Jod Marsh water - black with brown bubbles floating on the surface

“I used to work in the industrial sector. Those factories disposed of their waste (heavy metals) properly. They took responsibility. Here, they just dumped it into the water with indifference.”

Paradorn expressed hope that serious efforts will be made to correct the problem.  Chaluay also hopes that the factory and authorities will listen to the villagers on what they need and how things can be improved. 

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