Tambon pays high price for recycling

For decades, most residents of Tambon Khok Sa-ard have been bringing piles of electronic waste - a source of both income and health risks - to their hometown.

Community leaders say more than 67 per cent of locals, as a result, have developed health problems from substandard disposal of such waste.

"Most people here have earned their living by handling electronic waste. They have disassembled old electronic devices and sold the recyclable parts for money," Khong Chai senior deputy chief Prasitchai Phangrodrat said yesterday.

He said that through this livelihood activity, tambon Khok Sa-ard had bought in more than 6,000 tonnes of electronic waste each month during the past two decades.

"What can't be recycled, locals dispose of by burning," Prasitchai said.

He lamented that such activities polluted the local environment and residents, including children, were slowly paying for it in the form of deteriorating health.

According to Khong Chai public-health chief Sirisak Boonchaisan, these health risks among locals in tambon Khok Sa-ard became clear after random blood tests were conducted in their villages last year. This tambon covers a total of 12 villages.

"Of 129 small children tested, 21 had shown a worrying level of lead concentration in their blood," he said, "Three of 89 adults tested have the same problem".

He said three of these people had serious health conditions that must be closely monitored. "We found that every family in the tambon engages in electronic waste separation. And despite our campaign, many continue to work on such waste without any protective gear," Sirisak said.

Boonkwang Muangmontri, a 52-year-old resident, said he had made a living from electronic waste for more than two decades. "It's an honest means of livelihood," he said.

He said he got Bt9 per kilo of iron and old plastic, as much as Bt190 per kilo of aluminium, and up to Bt140 per kilo of copper and brass from the electronic waste.

Community leaders said each person generally earns more than Bt15,000 a month if he or she dismantles the old, unwanted electronic devices on their own. Each e-waste separation worker is also paid Bt300 a day.

While Boonkwang is happy about his income, he is also worried about his health.

"I know I risk developing health problems from lead exposure," he said.

Disturbing facts

Amount of electronic waste brought into tambon Khok Sa-ard per year: Over 60,000 tonnes

Amount of non-recyclable waste leftover per year: Over 20,000 tonnes

Source: Khong Chai District Office