High mercury levels found near Thai spill site

THAILAND - Visitors are being warned to avoid swimming in seawater surrounding Ao Phrao and Ao Tub Tim in Rayong province's Koh Samet after the Pollution Control Department (PCD) found mercury contamination exceeding the standard level.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet is now considering setting up a compensation fund for affected people and to help pay for the environmental damage. All oil companies operating in the Kingdom will be required to contribute money in support of the fund. The Cabinet also suggested help for affected tourism businesses.

"Visitors will not be allowed to swim in seawater in these two areas until test results show the seawater quality is safe," PCD director-general Wichien Jungrungruang said.

PCD started collecting samples of seawater from 12 of 20 beaches surrounding Koh Samet after the oil spill affected Ao Phrao on July 28.

The test results showed that the level of mercury in the seawater samples collected on August 3 had exceeded the standard, which should not be higher than 0.1 micrograms per litre. The level of mercury at Ao Phrao in the west of the island and at Au Tub Tim in the east recorded 2.9 micrograms per litre and 0.25 microgram per litre.

"This is a very critical level that might cause long-term side effects for humans," Wichien said at the press conference yesterday.

The study also showed the level of dissolved oxygen, acidity and basicity of seawater around these areas had not exceeded the standard level.

Also, the levels of cadmium and arsenic were not higher than standard and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs) was lower than the standard criteria.

The department is now waiting for the test results for total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH), expected to be released tomorrow.

To make sure the level of hazardous substances caused by the oil spill is receding, the pollution watch agency has conducted a second study and collected more samples of seawater. Results of this test will also be disclosed tomorrow too.

" I am really sorry … this test result is very late," Wichien said. "From now on, I will inform members of the public about the situation of hazardous substances in the sea around Koh Samet and nearby areas, every two days," he told the press conference.

To help tainted Ao Phrao and nearby areas recover from the oil contamination, the Natural Resources Ministry will tomorrow submit an environmental recovery plan for Koh Samet to the National Environmental Board. It will seek the board's approval before asking the Prevention and Elimination of Marine Pollution Caused by Oil Spill committee to implement the plan.

From now on, PCD will monitor the quality of the seawater for three months. The result of the investigation into the cause of the oil leak on July 27 and the spill on July 28 will be revealed today.