Toxic waste mountains threaten Southeast Asia's booming megacities
A blaze at a vast rubbish dump made up of six million tonnes of putrefying trash and toxic effluent has kindled fears that poor planning and lax law enforcement are tipping Thailand towards a waste crisis.
Locals had long pressed for the closure of the foul-smelling Praeksa landfill site, wedged between a cluster of industrial estates on the fringes of Bangkok.
But a ferocious eight-day fire that cloaked the capital's eastern suburbs in poisonous smoke earlier this year thrust Praeksa to the heart of a national debate over rubbish.
Bangkok - a sprawling city of 12 million and counting - produces around 10,000 tonnes of waste a day, a substantial portion of the 27 million tonnes generated each year across the kingdom.
The ruling junta has put waste disposal high on its to-do list, but Thailand is not alone.
From Jakarta's Bantar Gebang dump to Manila's "smoky mountain", open landfills blight Southeast Asia's booming megacities, as urban planners labour to keep pace with rapid urbanisation and industrial growth.
Experts warn those dumps are an environmental and health time bomb.
Open dumping "offers a quick and easy solution in the short run", the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific says in a study, warning of severe environmental problems and long-term health issues caused by contaminated water and land.
Of Thailand's 2,500 open rubbish pits, just a fifth are properly managed, according to its Pollution Control Department. The rest are at the mercy of illegal dumping - including of hazardous waste - fires and seepage into nearby land and water systems.
The department says the mid-March blaze at Praeksa, which has caught fire several times since, was just one of 10 that rage every month in Thailand.
For residents near Praeksa, in Samut Prakan province neighbouring Bangkok, the intensity of the blaze has left them in little doubt that inflammable chemicals swash around the fetid mounds of trash.
The tip is meant for household waste only.
"I want it closed," said 85-year-old resident Jad Pimsorn. "I have lived with it but I don't want my children and grandchildren to live with it too."
The dump operator denied he had allowed chemicals to be illegally stashed at his site.
"But there were several companies operating the pit before me," Krompol Samutsakorn said.
Thai households pay less than half a dollar a month to get rid of their waste. Local authorities say that leaves them short of cash to invest in modern, environmentally friendly incinerators or recycling plants, but they are reluctant to raise rates in already poor neighbourhoods.