BANGKOK - The raging fire on a large landfill in Samut Prakan might have already destroyed evidence of illegally dumped industrial waste, a senior official from the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) said.
"With the fire continuing to burn, it is becoming increasingly difficult to trace the origins of the industrial waste," Pong-in Intarakhao said yesterday in his capacity as director of the DSI Security Crime Bureau.
He spoke to reporters after meeting the chief administrator of the Tambon Praek Sa Administrative Organisation.
The DSI has stepped in to investigate the landfill in Muang Samut Prakan district's tambon Praek Sa after a fire broke out there on Sunday, spreading toxic fumes over several other districts and in neighbouring Bangkok.
People suffering the after-effects
According to Dr Namphol Danpipat, Samut Prakan's deputy public health chief, at least 833 people have sought medical treatment for smog-related symptoms, such as skin and eye irritation and breathing problems.
"One of the patients - a baby aged just a year and eight months - had to be hospitalised," Namphol said, adding that the infant had developed a lung infection and had been put on a respirator.
"But overall, his condition is improving," he said.
Public Health Ministry permanent secretary Dr Narong Sahametapat also expressed concern about people living close to the dump but refusing to evacuate.
"We have knocked on the doors of houses within a 500-metre radius from the landfill and found that some people have continued to stay in the smog-filled area," he said.
"Some of them live barely 50 metres from the landfill."
Relevant authorities have repeatedly warned people that the smog is harmful to health.
Narong said his ministry had registered about 700 local residents, taxi motorcyclists, firefighters and volunteers for comprehensive health checks.
"They will be subjected to blood tests, their lungs will be X-rayed and they will undergo liver and kidney efficiency checks," Narong said.
He added that the Department of Health would also check the quality and condition of tap water, artesian water and groundwater around the landfill.
"The results should come out within a week," he said.
As of press time yesterday, the blaze was still raging, though it appeared to be more contained. Several agencies have joined in to help extinguish the fire, which has turned the spotlight on illegal waste disposal.
It is now widely believed that industrial waste, especially the toxic sort, had been dumped in the landfill.
Pong-in said records showed that Kromapol Samutsakhon had sought a licence to operate a garbage-disposal business at the site, but the licence had expired in 2012.
He added that the Tambon Praek Sa Administrative Organisation had taken action against Kromapol several times after learning that harmful waste was being dumped at the spot.
"The authority had imposed a Bt2,000 (S$78) fine and ordered the closure of the landfill," he said, adding that illegal garbage continued being disposed at the site despite complaints from locals.
Pong-in said the local administrative body now planned to file both criminal and civil complaints against those behind the illegal disposal.
"The DSI will look for more evidence in this case," Pong-in said, though he admitted that it would be difficult to link what is left after the fire to any specific factory.