Herbicide blamed for cancer surge in poor Vietnamese hamlets

By Thuy Loi, Thanh Nien News

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The house of Le Dinh Vu in Nghe An Province's Nghia Dan District. The young man died of cancer at 17. Photo: Thuy Loi The house of Le Dinh Vu in Nghe An Province's Nghia Dan District. The young man died of cancer at 17. Photo: Thuy Loi
Dang Xuan Phap said few people use the name Phu Tien and instead know his small community as the “cancer hamlet."
“Unlike other hamlet officials, I have the additional task of recording the number of cancer patients and deaths,” said the official in Nghe An Province’s mountainous district of Nghia Dan.
“Most people in my hamlet die of cancer rather than old age,” he said. 
In Nghia Dan District, two adjacent hamlets of Nghia Phu and Nghia Hoi have recorded an unusual rise in the number of cancer patients in recent years, while relevant authorities have been reluctant to take action.
Phap said Phu Tien's population of around 900 has recorded 37 cancer cases in the past seven years. Those cases appeared with increasing frequency, he said.
“It’s not an accurate figure because many people may be living with cancer without being aware of it,” he said, adding that the small hamlet has also witnessed an alarming number of birth defects.
Meanwhile, Cao Xuan Tang, an official of Hoa Vinh Son Hamlet in Nghia Hoi Commune, said there were 13 cancer cases among the hamlet’s 200 residents.
“We are very worried because many people contract cancer at a young age--like Le Dinh Vu, 17, who suffers brain cancer and Cao Xuan Phuong, 19 who has leukemia.”
“Some families have two or three people suffering cancer like Cao Van Phuong and his son Cao Xuan Phuong, who were found with the disease at the same time and died in the same month,” he said.
Toxic herbicide
Tang said most hamlets in the region draw water from the Phu Tho Reservoir which sits at the base of several large coffee plantations.
“People have suspected that the tainted water was the reason for increasing cancer,” he said.
Nguyen Van Long, a retired worker at one of the plants, said there used to be two herbicide stores in the area which housed carcinogenic compounds described only as 666 and DDT.
He said local residents have complained about the issue to relevant authorities but not action has been taken.
Truong Quang Thang, chairman of Nghia Phu People’s Committee, said that three teams from the provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment have surveyed the area.
“All believe that the cause may be water tainted with agrochemicals," he said. "All three teams warned people to stop using well water.”
“We have proposed building a water treatment plant, but it has been deferred due to financial difficulties.”
Meanwhile, Phap, the Phu Tien Hamlet official, said all local residents use unfiltered well water.
“No one can afford a water filter, leaving them at the mercy of the God of Death.”

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