August 19, 2016

Amnesty International calls to relocate sulphuric acid factory

After a recent research trip to Kankone village in Sagaing region Amnesty International has issued a release urging the Myanmar government to relocate a sulphuric acid factory in the village located only 50 meters from a secondary school.
According to the press release the factory closed for a month, after “newly elected municipal authorities” ended the factory’s license. It has since begun operations in June.  “Myanmar’s government must intervene immediately and stop the operations of the sulphuric acid factory. The factory must be relocated to an area where it can’t endanger anybody’s health,” said Amnesty International Business and Human Rights researcher Mark Dummett, who visited Kankone village in the country’s northwest Sagaing Region last month.
The factory began operating again on 15 June and the air pollution forced the nearby school to leave, with villagers saying that at times they are forced to leave their homes due to the polluted air.
“Every time we smell the acid it is really bad. We tell the factory to stop it, but they say that’s not possible,” a male resident told Amnesty International in 2014.
“People cannot stay in the village at those times. Our eyes tear up and we cough,” another man told Amnesty International on the same visit. The report also that skin, eye and respiratory problems are associated to the factory.
The Moe Gyo Sulphuric Acid factory began operations in 2007 and was found to be illegally operating in 2013 by a committee headed by the current State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The committee found it had been illegally operating from 2007-2013.
A government department and a NGO conducted soil samples from the area in 2013 and found high levels of sulphur in the samples. The Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited owns the company and obtained permission to operate the factory in July 2013. The group has had no sanctions placed against it for the illegal operation due to its relationship with the Myanmar military.
“UMEHL shouldn’t ignore the concerns of the local authorities and must listen to the very serious complaints of the affected population. The central government now needs to stop the operations of this factory and move it to a safe location,” Mark Dummett said. Adding, “The authorities must also investigate potential breaches of the Factories Act by UMEHL from 2007 to 2013.”
The factory supplies sulphuric acid to two copper mines, the Letpadaung and Sabetaung and Kyisintaung (S&K) mines, joint ventures between UMEHL and China’s Wanbao Mining.
In 2014 Daw Khin Win, a local villager, was shot dead by police while protesting the operation of the Letpadaung copper mine and in 2012 police were accused of using white phosphorous, a internationally sanctioned chemical weapon that is highly toxic and explosive, on protestors.
In the press release Amnesty International said that in April 2015 it, “wrote to the company, raising its concerns, and asking it to share what assessments it has collected, but has not received a response.” “The newly elected government must ensure that the operations of the Letpadaung mine are halted until the environmental and human rights concerns about the project are resolved in genuine consultation with all affected people.”—GNLM


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