An overpowering stench from a sulfuric acid plant in Sagaing Division’s Salingyi Township forced hundreds of students from a nearby village to stay home from school earlier this week, prompting renewed calls for the factory to be relocated.
Parents of students at the high school in the village of Kangon said they became worried for their children’s safety when the Mogyo Sulfuric Acid Factory, operated by the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH), started emitting a foul odor on Monday.
“At times, the fumes would engulf the school vicinity, causing coughing and dry throats,” said Zaw Linn, the father of a student at the school, which is located less than 200 meters from the factory. “It got even worse when the wind blew this way,” he added.
Village residents have been calling for the plant to be moved since a similar incident more than two years ago, when at least 200 people became sick, complaining of sore throats, itchy eyes and vomiting.
The factory supplies acid to the Latpadaung copper mine, which is partly owned by UMEH in partnership with Wanbao, a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned weapons manufacturer Norinco. A report released in 2013 by the Latpadaung Investigation Commission, headed by Aung San Suu Kyi to look into operations at the controversial mine, found that the factory was hazardous and called for an investigation into its operations.
According to Zaw Linn, however, oversight at the plant remains lax. “Factory inspections should be done without prior notice. Otherwise, the findings won’t be realistic,” he said.
“My opinion is that it would be the best if they moved out,” said Nyunt Sai, another village resident. “This kind of facility shouldn’t exist around human communities, and we would rather see it gone.”
Local health officials suggested that studies should be carried out to detect the level of pollution caused by the factory.
“At this time, we have no means of precisely measuring the effect of the plant’s emissions on the atmosphere, and we need technical assistance to do that,” said Dr Sithu Myo, who heads the local hospital.
The school’s headmistress said the regional development minister recently visited the village to inspect the factory and pledged to follow up with concerned government departments.