08/04/2017, 16.33
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Millions of cubic metres of toxic mud dumped into the sea

by Thanh Thuy

The polluted area covers an area of ​​30 hectares in Binh Thuận province. Rural and coastal regions in southern and central Vietnam pay a high price for economic development. Government complicity and vague laws allow companies to come up with different ways of waste disposal. In 2016, the discharge of toxic waste from a steel plant caused the country’s worst environmental disaster. China’s Lee & Man Paper Company is now polluting the Mekong Delta.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – Millions of cubic metres of toxic mud are being “sunk” at sea. Indifferent to the consequences for human health, provincial authorities in Binh Thuận, southern Vietnam, have allowed the Electricity Group of Viêt Nam (EVN) to contaminate the waters off the coast of Vĩnh Tân, through this 'innovative' method of waste disposal.

On 13 July 2017, Mr Phạm, deputy director general of the Department of Sea and Islands at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, told the local People's Council that "the Vinh Tân 1 Electricity Company was authorised to 'sink' about a million of cubic metres of toxic mud into the sea at Vĩnh Tân."

The polluted area covers an area of 30 hectares and is eight kilometres from the island of Hòn Cau, a major marine reserve. The deepest point where the mud was discharged is 35 metres below sea level.

Some ten kilometres from the island, the Vinh Tân 2 Electricity Company dumped 2.4milion cubic metres of toxic mud at sea.

Prof Lê Anh, deputy director of the Institute for Research on Climate Change at Cần Thơ University, slammed the government for its complicity in this.

"The authorities call this system of disposal ‘toxic waste immersion', but in fact it is no more than dumping at sea. The law is very vague on this subject. In the specific case, we are talking about tropical waters, rich in resources, delicate and very vulnerable."

Rural and coastal regions in central and southern Vietnam are those that pay dearly for Vietnam's economic development. About 70 per cent of the population is concentrated in these areas, mostly poor and disadvantaged in terms of education, health care and quality of life.

The government's economic policies are centred on industrial development, manufacturing, exports, investments and services. Its many plans include the rapid construction of infrastructure and industrial zones.

However, it has not paid attention to the protection of the environment and the health of citizens. Consequently, farmland is being lost or becoming increasingly polluted along with rivers and waters.

In April 2016, the discharge of toxic waste from a steel mill owned by Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Group caused the country’s worst environmental disaster.

Approximately 12,000 cubic metres of toxic soup spilled every day into the sea killing more than 115 tonnes of fish. This affected the lives of 200,000 people, wiping out the jobs of 41,000 fishermen in the four most affected coastal provinces: Nghệ An, Hà Tĩnh, Quảng Bình and Thừa Thiên-Huế.

Formosa Plastics paid US $ 500 million for the clean-up and compensation, but the government’s slow and intermittent pay-out has sparked protests, which continue more than a year after the disaster.

The cases of the Electricity Group of Viêt Nam and Formosa Plastics are not the only ones to spark criticism and protest because of the absence of effective environmental protection policies.

More recently, the authorities gave the green light to a paper mill owned by China’s Lee & Man Paper Company, in the Mekong delta region, on the banks of the Hậu River, in Châu Thành district (Hậu Giang province).

The area grows rice and other fruit and vegetables, but locals are particularly concerned about the plant’s proximity to Cần Thơ Waterworks, which supplies drinking water to more than 500,000 people.

On 7 March, the plant tested its operations causing stench, smog and noise, which ever since have affected the lives of residents in Phú Xuân (Châu Thành district) and neighbouring areas.

"The odour has been around for five months now and is getting worse,” Mr Thu told AsiaNews. “At first, there was only a little dust and smoke, but now they are increasing. "

For people in Mái Dầm, on the other side of the river: "Since the plant began operations, no one dares to use the water. Once we used to fish in the river, but now that is no longer possible because of the pollution."

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