Some Vietnamese experts and scientists were not convinced after officials announced that tests could not find any connection between Taiwanese firm Formosa’s industrial discharge and an ongoing environmental disaster in central Vietnam.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment organized a press conference late Wednesday, three weeks after the first fish deaths along the central coast were reported. Around 200 reporters attended the event as Vietnamese across the country anxiously awaited a plausible explanation.
Vo Tuan Nhan, deputy minister, told the press that a meeting was convened by relevant ministries and agencies earlier the same day to discuss the possible causes of the mass fish deaths in several coastal provinces.
“The meeting concluded that the mass fish deaths were possibly caused by chemical toxins discharged by human activities on the land and in the sea, and red tides – a phenomenon caused by algal blooms,” he said.
Nhan said that authorities did not have evidence to link Taiwanese-owned Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Company (FHS) to the disaster.
“Tests did not show that the sea water’s safety indexes failed to meet required standards,” he said.
Dr Le Phat Quoi, a professor at the Ho Chi Minh City National University, told Thanh Nien that the environment ministry’s conclusion was not convincing. It did not publicize detailed data related to the tests on the seawater and the dead fish either, he said.
He said there were reports that tests conducted in Thua Thien-Hue Province found some heavy metals, including chromium, in the seawater.
He rejected the theory of red tides, saying that harmful algal blooms would have affected a much larger area.
Quoi said he believed the fish were poisoned by a considerable amount of heavy metals in the seawater.
Vu Trong Hong, former deputy minister of water resource, said the environment ministry must clarify which chemical agents had poisoned the fish, who used these agents and how.
“To know whether the mass fish deaths were caused by Formosa’s wastewater, I think we should invite scientists to investigate,” he said.
Dr To Van Truong, another respected environmental expert, told Thanh Nien he believed Formosa’s use of chemicals to clean sewage pipes had killed the fish.
“The solution used to clean sewage pipe is usually very hard to be treated, as it contains many substances that are not easily diluted and decomposed,” he said.
Formosa has been the prime suspect in the case since its sewage pipe running straight into the sea was discovered hidden deep under the water.
Environment versus economic growth
After the press conference, deputy minister Nhan met with the press to answer some questions.
He said the environment ministry will continue to investigate the case, and confirmed that the ministry will not trade the environment for economic growth.
“If we find any company polluting the environment, it will be strictly punished,” he said.
Nhan said authorities will continue to work with scientists to investigate the causes of the mass fish deaths based on the preliminary results.
“If necessary, we will ask for help from international scientific organizations. We will soon issue warnings for fishers and consumers,” he said.
The environment ministry has already ordered affected provinces to test the quality of seawater in coastal areas in order to offer appropriate advice to swimmers and tourists, according to Nhan.
When asked about the deadline to have an answer for the mass fish deaths, Nhan said "it depends on the research" but the ministry is taking urgent measures.
“There were similar cases in which it took years to find out the causes,” he said.
The environment ministry will send teams of inspectors to check the waste discharges of companies, especially those with high risks of pollution, in the affected provinces, according to Nhan.
The ministry has warned residents in these provinces not to eat dead fish and sell them to animal feed companies.