The warning comes six days after it was discovered that raw sewage has been flowing untreated into water at the popular tourist beach, potentially exposing thousands of visitors to the island to health risks. (See story here.)
Asked how people would know whether the water is safe to enter, Khanchit Soontrakorn of the Regional Environment Department Region 15 office, based in Phuket, today told The Phuket News, “Right now, people are able to decide by the colour of the water.”
Mr Kanchit said he had no knowledge any any people suffering physical effects from exposure to the wastewater.
“That is Patong Municipality’s responsibility, and they are working on it right now,” he said.
Regardless, Mr Khanchit downplayed the possibility of swimmers at Patong even developing skin irritations, even though no officials have yet dared to even estimate the volume of wastewater that has fouled the bay.
“If people get itchy, that is from sea lice,” he said.
Mr Khanchit was happy to promote that his office “would be doing something about the problem”.
“Regional Environment Office 15 in Phuket will begin their plan this month to inspect the area and the hotels in the area to solve and reduce the wastewater in Pak Bang Canal by looking to build more wastewater treatment plants and making the wastewater treatment plants in the area work effectively and properly,” he said.
That definition of action to be taken flew in the face of a direct order by Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Permanent Secretary Dr Wijarn Simachaya who only four days ago stood on Patong Beach and ordered the Regional Environmental Office to target illegal hotels in Patong dumping untreated wastewater into the canal.
“Officials from the Environmental Department's Region 15 office in Phuket will come to work with Patong Municipality to solve this problem. They will look for the points where illegal hotels are releasing their wastewater into the sea,” Dr Wijarn said on Sunday (Feb 11).
“Those hotels will be charged according to the law,” he added. (See story here.)
Meanwhile, Patong Municipality has reported that it has “solved” the problem of the sands at nearby Tri Trang Beach turning black from the volume of contaminants washed ashore.
The simple solution was to drive backhoes onto the beach and bury the black sand under cleaner, light-brown sand.
Supakorn Meekeaw, Acting Head Engineer at Patong Municipality’s environmental department, told The Phuket News today (Feb 14), “The black sand on Tri Trang Beach was taken away from the beach this morning. We then pumped all the wastewater away too.”
Exactly how the wastewater even could be pumped away from the area, which opens directly onto the rest of Patong Bay, and to the Andaman Sea, Mr Supakorn did not explain.
In a stunning statement, Mr Supakorn also said, “Right now I cannot confirm where the wastewater was released from and the cause of the wastewater at Tri Trang Beach.”
However, he did admit, “The Patong wastewater treatment plant is always a problem. It is possible that hotels or business illegally released wastewater into the canal.
“We are finding out if there is any hotels releasing their wastewater into the sea, If we find any hotels doing so, we will definitely charge them, but so far we have not found any hotels illegally releasing wastewater,” he added.
Concerning the health of those who might have been already exposed to high levels of contaminants in the beach water at Patong, Mr Supakorn said, “I have not got any reports from any hospital about tourists or any other people being affected by swimming in the water.”
Mr Supakorn did not confirm whether or not his office had even checked with Patong Hospital or medical clinics throughout the tourism town.
At this stage Mr Supakorn declined to answer any further questions and terminated the conversation.
Meanwhile, Patong Municipality has reported holding a “special meeting” led by Phuket Vice Governor Snith Sriwihok and attended by Patong Mayor Chalermluck Kebsup yesterday (Feb 13).
However, the stunning revelation from that meeting was that the municipality now “plans” to start inspecting hotels and other businesses in Patong for illegally releasing untreated wastewater into the canal, or elsewhere.
As “short-term” solutions to the problem, the municipality said it would rush the completion of the expansion to the Patong Wastewater Treatment Plant and “set measures to prevent wastewater being released into Pak Bang Canal”.
Another “short-term” solution under consideration was to have sewage in Patong “transferred” to another treatment plant in another area. Exactly how the raw sewage whould transported and to where was not explained.
As a “long-term” solution, it was raised at the meeting that Patong Municipality would look into plans to build a water reuse plant – and to “promote the construction of the water-reuse plant”.