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UNION OF MYANMAR: Sulphuric acid factory behind health fears must be relocated

2 Aug 2016
[International Secretariat]
Region: UNION OF MYANMAR
Topic: Business and Human Rights

The Myanmar government must immediately order the relocation of a sulphuric acid factory built dangerously close to a village, which is continuing to operate despite grave concerns over its health and environmental impact, said Amnesty International today.

Residents of Kankone village told Amnesty International on a recent research mission to Myanmar that they are suffering from strong-smelling factory emissions that are causing respiratory, skin and eye problems.

The emissions have also damaged crops in the area. Soil samples examined by a government department and an environmental NGO in 2013 revealed high levels of sulphates in the soil. The test results, while limited, are a cause for serious concern about the factory and its impacts.

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.

The Moe Gyo Sulphuric Acid Factory, built in 2007, was the subject of an investigation committee led by Aung San Suu Kyi in 2013. The committee found that the company that runs the factory had built it without securing permission from local authorities.

The company, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL),which is owned by the Myanmar military, subsequently obtained permission to operate the factory in July 2013.

It is a criminal offence in Myanmar to operate a factory without permission but the government failed to open an investigation into this matter, and imposed no sanction on the owners of UMEHL for illegally operating the factory from 2007 to 2013.

Last month, the newly elected municipal authorities decided not to renew the factory’s annual licence to operate pending an assessment of its health and environmental impacts, officials said.

According to residents, the factory did not function for more than one month, however it has since resumed its operations without renewing its license to operate. A local official said that despite the lack of a license from the municipal authorities, a central government body is still allowing the factory to run.

Villagers reported that following the resumption of operations on 15 June, the air became so polluted that most students stopped attending school, which sits just 50 metres from the factory.

International best practice calls for a buffer zone between residential areas and a facility manufacturing hazardous chemicals to ensure human safety.

Before any relocation of the factory, the government needs to ensure that its operator, UMEHL, conducts an adequate Environmental and Social Impact Assessment in consultation with affected people and discloses all safety measures to be taken prior to, during and after the move.

“The Myanmar government must also ensure that any negative impacts caused by the factory are fully assessed, disclosed and remediated,” Mark Dummett said. “The authorities must also investigate potential breaches of the Factories Act by UMEHL from 2007 to 2013.”

Background

The Moe Gyo Sulphuric Acid Factory supplies sulphuric acid to two copper mines, the Letpadaung and Sabetaung and Kyisintaung (S&K) mines. These are joint ventures between UMEHL and China’s Wanbao Mining.

The giant Letpadaung mine officially started producing copper for the first time in May 2016.
Amnesty International’s 2015 report Open for Business? Corporate Crime and Abuses at Myanmar Copper Mine detailed serious human rights abuses linked to these two mines. They have a long history of forced evictions and thousands of people remain at risk of forced eviction.

20 July 2016
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE

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