Unocal: Gulf Fish " Safe To Eat "
By Luong Quang Loc, Labor & Social Affairs Newspaper,
An environmental official from Unocal Thailand tried to downplay public
concern over mercury pollution and told a group of journalists recently
that fish in the Gulf of Thailand is safe to eat.
Thailand officials and workers eat fish from the Gulf, and we see
ourselves in the forefront of mercury control issues," said Tawatchai
Siripatrachai, Unocal Thailandís manager for environmental
Unocal, which produces natural gas from offshore
platforms in the Gulf of Thailand, has invested over US$6 million for
water treatment efforts since 1996 to improve technology for removing
mercury from its waste water, according to company
Tawatchai claimed that Unocalís latest studies
show that fish in the Gulf does not contain excessive levels of mercury, a
dangerous poison which can damage the central nervous system of human
beings. Furthermore, Unocal documents claimed that from 1990 to 1996
several field studies showed there was no significant mercury pollution in
But a research paper produced by Thailandís
Pollution Control Department last year revealed that mercury levels in the
fish, sediment and water around the natural gas production platforms ďtend
to be higherĒ than elsewhere in the Gulf, although it too concluded that
fish in the Gulf is generally safe to eat.
entitled "Are Thai waters really contaminated with mercury?"
also noted that the sea near the Maptaphut Industrial Estate is
another hot spot for mercury. Mercury levels in the water there average
roughly 60 parts per trillion (ppt), under the Thai standard of 100 ppt
but well over the world average of 10 ppt for mercury in coastal
Unocal first found that mercury occurs naturally in
the gas produced from underneath the Gulf from studies at its Platong
platform back in 1985, four years after production first
In December of 1995, mercury issue became a hot news item
when Dr. Piamsak Menasveta, a marine scientist from Chulalongkorn
University who had been hired by Unocal, revealed that mercury levels in
the fish around the platforms were rising. It was later reported that
nearly 12 percent of the fish caught around the Erawan platform had
mercury levels over the health standard of 0.5 parts per
" It was not Merry Christmas. It was mercury
Christmas" , said Tawatchai. Unocal eventually revealed that it was
releasing 90 kilograms of mercury into the sea in the waste water from its
platforms. The company then vowed to improve its waste treatment system.
But Tawatchai said it did not have enough information to make such
improvements prior to 1996.
More recent studies by Piamsak
have since showed that mercury levels in fish appear to be declining. In
the meantime, however, high mercury levels have also been found in fish in
and around Vietnamís Mekong delta.
Tawatchai claimed that
Unocal Thailand has cooperated closely with the Thai Government over the
last nine years in order to study this problem on a broader level. He said
the company has established an environmental steering committee to provide
the reports about the mercury issue.
"We are still discussing
the mercury issue. But I look forward to a happy end to this issue,"