Pongphon Sarnsamak ,The Nation/Asia News Network
Thailand’s state health agency has said it will study the impact of the oil spill on marine life around Koh Samet’s Ao Phrao in Rayong province, saying toxic substances from the crude oil may enter the food chain in the next three months. The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry has also set up a committee to monitor the environmental impacts of the spill. “Chaired by the ministry’s permanent secretary Chote Trachu, the committee comprises representatives from other relevant agencies such as the Pollution Control Department and the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning. Also on the panel are academics from many universities,” Marine and Coastal Resources Department director-general Noppon Srisuk said Friday.
His department has been given the job of assessing the leak’s impact on coral reefs and sea grass around Koh Samet. The assignment also covers efforts to determine why marine life was found beached and dead in the area. PTT Global Chemical (PTTGC), the company behind the spill, will kick off another cleaning session on Monday and is calling for volunteers. Meanwhile, Disease Control Department director-general Dr. Pornthep Siriwanarangsun will collect random samples of seafood around the affected areas to see if it is safe for consumption. “It is too early to say the marine aquatic animals living around the affected areas have been tainted with hazardous substances such as lead, cadmium or nickel. “It will take at least three months for marine life, such as plankton — the main food for many aquatic animals — to be contaminated,” he said. He also suggested that people cook seafood longer and at high temperatures to reduce any toxicity. Hazardous substances from the crude oil can have short-term health impacts such as dizziness and depression as well as longer-term problems such as effects on both red and white blood cells, Pornthep said. Since the Ao Phrao beach clean-up began on Monday, the department reported that up to 70 workers had developed symptoms such as nausea and dizziness and had to be taken to hospital in Map Ta Phut. Officials have advised people participating in the clean-up not to spend more than eight hours at the affected site. Close Eye on Health Impacts To monitor the impact the spilled oil is having on the cleaning team, officials have collected urine samples from some 1,275 people at the site. The results should be released next week. After five days since the crude oil washed up on the shores of Ao Phrao, sand that was completely black is now looking cleaner and is expected to return to its normal condition in the near future. Meanwhile, more than 200 big bags containing oil-tainted sand were taken to the Siam City Cement factory for disposal. Separately, Sumet Saithong, chief of the Khao Laem Ya-Koh Samet Marine National Park, said his team had surveyed up to 70 percent of the coral reef in the area as of Thursday. The survey will be analyzed by experts to see exactly what happened under the sea in the affected site and nearby areas. PTTGC President Bowon Vongsinudom said Ao Phrao beach should be cleaned up by next week. He added that all waste should be shipped out of the island by today under the watchful eye of the Pollution Control Department. He also said the thin film of oil on the surface should naturally dissolve over time. Government agencies will inspect the area once the cleanup is complete. Bowon said the company was in the process of drafting a rehabilitation plan, which requires the Rayong provincial authorities’ approval.