A Thai court on Thursday ordered the government to clean up a lead-polluted creek and pay nearly $4 million in compensation to local villagers as part of a legal battle that lasted almost a decade.
Over the past 15 years, toxic waste from a lead mine and treatment factory established in 1967 have contaminated water, soil and aquatic animals, and affected villagers living near the Klity creek in Kanchanaburi province, 292 kilometers (181 miles) west of Bangkok.
The businesses owned by Lead Concentrates Co. were ordered to shut down in 1998. But more than 150 ethnic Karen residents in the remote village of Lower Klity have been forced to shun their only water source since 1999, when the Public Health Ministry prohibited using the creek for water and banned fishing there.
The Supreme Administrative Court ruled Thursday that the government's Pollution Control Department did not attempt to mitigate the damage in a timely manner.
In making the ruling, which followed a nine-year legal battle, Judge Saneh Boontamanop said the department had "neglected its duty as stated by law" by failing to draw up plans to solve the environmental problem, directly impacting villagers who were unable to use the creek in their daily lives.
Tainted sediment in the 19-kilometer-long (12-mile-long) creek remains an ongoing concern for residents exposed to the water. A 2011 survey showed that the amount of lead in fish and other aquatic animals in the creek remained higher than the amount allowed by the Public Health Ministry's standard of 1 milligram per kilogram.
The court awarded each of the 22 plaintiffs about 177,000 baht ($5,800) in compensation to offset the loss of food and natural resources. The Pollution Control Department will have to pay the villagers within 90 days.
It also ordered the department to oversee the cleaning up of the creek, although the ruling did not specify the time frame for the process, disappointing some of the villagers.
"I wanted the court to put a time limit because I, for once, want to see the end of this problem," the village head, Yaseu Nasuansuwan, said after the ruling.
"The creek is our life. The money is actually not as important as bringing back our source of water," he said. "And we're not moving anywhere because we aren't the problem. Pollution is the problem."