Mon State — About 300 residents of Moulmein Township in Mon State protested on Sunday against three coal-fired antimony factories accused of polluting the local air with their emissions, according to the organizer.
The protesters brandished signs and chanted “We don’t want the antimony factories to use coal” to urge the state government to shut them down.
Zaw Naing Oo, who organized protest and lives near the factories, told The Irrawaddy that residents were suffering.
“We have to breath the polluted air every day. We are going to die from it,” he said.
He claimed that some residents had headaches and have developed respiratory problems because of the factory emissions and that some of their livestock have died from eating grass contaminated by their runoff.
He works at a textile factory about 200 feet from the factories and said employees have to wear masks on windy days to cope with the fumes blown their way or even exit the building when it’s too much.
The factories were built in 2014 and are owned by a company called Myanma San Zaw, a joint Myanmar-China venture that processes antimony shipped in from Karen State.
The facilities were shut down by the previous government following earlier community complaints but allowed to reopen in January by the government that followed, with instructions to upgrade their equipment and fall in line with government guidelines. But locals say the problem persists and have continued to complain.
U Min Kyin Win, the state’s minister of natural resources and environmental conservation, told The Irrawaddy that he and his staff have investigated the factories several times.
“We noticed that sometimes a bad smell comes out. We checked emission levels and they were high. We told them to reduce them as much as they could,” he said.
He said one of the factories has since installed new equipment and that his staff would investigate again when the other two followed suit. He added that they would be shut down if they continued to operate in breach of government guidelines but did not say how much time they were given to comply.
“If they cannot follow our guidelines, they have to shut down their factories,” the minister said.