Polluters will face criminal charges: minister

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Industrial parks are discharging 700 million liters of untreated wastewater into rivers every day


The water treatment system of Vedan factory in the southern Dong Nai Province was inspected by officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in January, 2010. The Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Pham Khoi Nguyen, has pledged to bring major pollution cases to court.

The Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Pham Khoi Nguyen said on June 1 that he has forwarded related documents regarding recent pollution cases to police and prosecutors to press criminal charges.

"We are at a dead end in terms of protecting the environment and it's time for strict measures against those who try to cover up acts of pollution," he said.

Nguyen was speaking at a meeting in Hanoi to announce the Vietnam Environment Report 2009 Industrial Park Environment.

The report cites estimation by the World Bank saying that Vietnam could suffer damages equaling 5.5 percent in annual GDP due to pollution, and another US$780 million a year in damages to the community's health.

Industrial parks were responsible for a significant amount of pollution to the environment including water air and noise pollution, it has identified. Vietnam has a total of 171 industrial parks in operation and another 52 under construction.

Massive polluters

Industrial parks in operation are discharging more than one billion liters of wastewater into rivers and the sea. Of this, 70 percent is untreated and leads to serious pollution of surface water, especially in the basins of Dong Nai River in the south and Nhue and Day rivers in the north.

Meanwhile, significant levels of air pollution were found at old industrial parks due to dated technology and a lack of exhaust fume treatment systems.

In the country's four major economic zones, including the northern, central, southern and Mekong Delta zones, air pollution per day is estimated at nearly 100 tons of dust, 172 tons of nitrogen dioxide, 26 tons of carbon monoxide and 1,644 tons of sulfur dioxide.

Air pollution in the work place has also had a significant impact on the health of workers and residents living near the factories. However, there have been no recorded details of this pollution so far due to a lack of regulations allowing such research, the report said.

Researchers also warned against solid waste pollution at new industrial parks, especially from electronics companies where solid waste accounts for more than 20 percent of the total waste discharged.

Damages

The report said that water pollution in rivers caused by industrial parks has led to severe damage of ecosystems. Metal contamination, as well as other polluting substances, has influenced the food chain and humans will suffer as a consequence, it said.

Pollution has also increased the number of victims of occupational diseases. Statistics showed a total of nearly 5,500 people suffering from occupational diseases between 1976 and 1990. However, this number increased to nearly 21,600 in 2004 and is estimated to reach more than 30,000 by the end of this year.

Statistics in 2004 found respiratory diseases topped the list of occupational diseases at 76.7 percent, including silicosis in the mining, construction, production of equipment for construction, mechanics and metallurgy fields.

Residents living near industrial parks have also suffered from health problems and financial losses due to their illness. The financial damage is estimated at 3.5 times as much as residents who do not live near industrial parks.

Researchers also said pollution has shortened the life expectancy of people living in polluted areas, namely near industrial parks where they are at risk from illnesses.

VEDAN RELUCTANT TO PROVIDE COMPENSATION

Bui Cach Tuyen, head of the Vietnam Environment Administration under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said on June 1 that officials from the Taiwanese monosodium glutamate maker Vedan Vietnam had informed they couldn't attend a meeting with the agency on the same day because they were busy.

He said the meeting aimed to discuss the company's compensation to farmers along Thi Vai River in Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai and Ba Ria -Vung Tau provinces for damages caused by the discharging of untreated wastewater into the river for 14 years.

Investigations in September 2008 found Vedan had illegally dumped up to 105.6 million liters of untreated wastewater per month since 1994, killing farmers' fish and shrimp ponds and ruining farmland along the banks of the river.

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