Residents of Kawthaung, a Tenessarim Division town located on Burma’s southernmost tip, are complaining that air pollution caused by a coal-fired plant constructed last year is affecting the health of about 100 people.
Nway Nway, a local resident, said the coal plant was located in the town, between Shwepyitha and Ayeyeiknyein quarters, where its emissions were affecting the respiratory health of an increasing number of local inhabitants.
“If there were 50 people before, now we have 100 people who have health complaints,” she said, adding that children and old people suffered the most from the air pollution. “I even suffer from coughing and chest congestion; five pregnant women living around the factory are facing the same problem,” Nway Nway added.
Local residents have protested against the construction of the 8-megawatt plant since it became operational in October 2012. The facility is managed by Than Phyo Thu Mining Company.
Than Htun, a Democratic Party representative from Tenessarim Division, said his party was investigating the plant’s reported effect on residents’ health. “There are about 40 patients with those [respiratory] problems and we are examining them with three doctors to determine if smoke and ash from the factory were the root causes,” he said.
“After that, we will continue medical check-ups with skin and throat specialists from inside the country and Thailand. If [emissions] are the reasons, we will campaign until the factory is closed down entirely,” he said, adding that his party held a meeting with local residents recently and many had demanded that the plant be moved elsewhere.
“If the number of victims increases, but the factory continues its operations or doesn’t relocate, it will face growing opposition from locals or other types of problems,” said Than Htun.
The facility’s manager, Hla Maw, dismissed claims that the plant’s emissions were causing health problems among local residents, adding that the plant was not located close to living quarters as it was at the center of a 28-acre compound.
“People say they have suffered but there is no medical record to prove that,” he said.
Hla Maw said the power plant is a joint-venture between the Ministry of Electric Power and the privately-owned Than Phyo Thu Company, adding that it provided much-needed power to the town and for this reason it was unlikely that it would shut down, despite the complaints.
“We are providing the whole urban area with electricity, so what can we do if we don’t have this factory?,” he said, adding that electricity prices for local residents had dropped from 450 kyat (US$ 0.45) per unit to 370 kyat after the plant began producing power.
Than Htun said the reported health problems were the result of a flawed government decision to not use natural gas produced from fields off the coast of Tenasserim Division to construct a gas-fired plant in the town.
“The government sells natural gas from our area to foreign countries and builds factories that are harmful to our people,” said Than Htun, referring to Burma’s large-scale export of natural gas to neighboring Thailand
In early 2012, government plans for the construction of 4,000-megawatt coal plant in the Thailand-backed Special Economic Zone in Dawei, Tennaserim, were shelved following fierce protests by local residents and environmental activists.