London-based human rights group Amnesty International has called on the Burmese government to “immediately” relocate a sulfuric acid factory situated close to a village, which continues to operate despite adverse impacts reported on public health and the environment.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Amnesty said that, during fieldwork conducted last month, residents of Kankone Village in Monywa Township of Sagaing Division told of respiratory, skin and eye ailments linked to the “strong-smelling factory emissions,” as well as damage to crops.
Village residents said the air had become so toxic that youth had stopped attending the local school, located only 50 meters from the factory.
A 2013 examination by the government and an environmental organization identified high levels of sulphates in the soil.
“[Burma’s] government must intervene immediately and stop the operations of the sulfuric 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.
The Thunder Sulphuric Acid Factory was built in 2007 under Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL), a major military-owned conglomerate in Burma.
An investigation led by then-opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2013 discovered that it had been constructed without the required permission from local authorities—a criminal offence.
UMEHL acquired official permission to run the factory shortly afterwards, in July 2013, and faced no sanctions for illegally operating over six years.
The factory supplies two major, and controversial, copper mines located nearby—Letpadaung, and Sabetaung and Kyisintaung (S&K)—run jointly by UMEHL and Wanbao Mining, a Chinese company. Letpadaung mine began producing copper in May 2016, amid sustained opposition from local farmers who claim their land was seized for the mine without adequate compensation.
Last month, municipal authorities chose not to renew the factory’s annual operating license pending a health and environmental impact assessment.
However, local residents said that the factory resumed operations after little more than a month. A local official said a “central government body” was allowing it to run despite not receiving a renewed license.