Dangerous tungsten factory built without approval in northern Vietnam

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Authorities in Quang Ninh Province said they have ordered the administration of Mong Cai Town to find out and punish those responsible for allowing the building of an illegal tungsten (wolfram) factory for a Chinese business.

A provincial government leader said the administration last year had received a construction proposal for the factory from the local Hoang Thong Company along with opinions from related departments, and had decided to turn it down.

But the company went ahead and built the factory anyway, until its illegality was found out by Quang Nghia Commune inspectors last November.

An investigation by Thanh Nien found that Mong Cai Party Secretary Nguyen Quang Diep had declared in a statement last September that the company would be allowed to build the factory.

The statement was followed by approvals from the Quang Ninh departments of Construction, Industry and Trade, Investment and Planning, and Natural Resources and Environment, in March this year, when construction was resumed with 32 Chinese workers who had come to Vietnam on tourist visas.

In April, the Quang Ninh administration issued a statement which did not reject the factory, but disapproved its location, as it was too close to residential areas.

The factory was built over five hectares, around 23 kilometers from the China border, 500 meters from a national highway, and less than 200 meters from the local Pat Cap River.

It is designed to produce 3,000 tons of tungsten powder a year. The factory is registered under the Vietnamese company, which is listed as a co-investor with a Chinese counterpart. The entire production was to be exported to China.

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Professor Phung Viet Ngu, vice chairman of Vietnam Foundry and Metallurgy Science & Technology Association, said "processing wolfram ores is very dangerous."

He said the ores have to be soaked in solutions to get pure wolfram.

"The solutions are then discharged, and the impurities including arsenic is absorbed into the soil and groundwater, killing marine creatures and causing cancer among people."

Ngu said since Vietnam announced the ban of raw ore exports, many Chinese businesses have brought their factories to Vietnam, processing Vietnamese ore, or raw material from other countries. The final product was taken to China.

"The method allows them to slide through the law, and leave the pollution to us," Ngu said.

"We cannot turn our country into a dirty industrial ground for foreign countries, just to have several hundred jobs for locals and a little tax money," he added.

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