Farmers accuse polluting company of destroying livelihoods

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Fishermen living near the waste treatment plant of state-owned Sonadezi Corporation in southern Vietnam have accused the company of hurting their livelihoods by dumping untreated sewage into the river.

Last Thursday, after observing the plant in Dong Nai Province for a month, Vietnamese environmental police caught the plant red-handed discharging untreated waste into the Dong Nai River after a one-month watch.

After finding smelly sewage flowing from the sluice gates of the company's waste treatment facility into the river, they raided the plant and discovered that the waste treatment system did not work, and untreated waste was being dumped directly through three underground pipelines into a canal that ran into the river.

The plant also built a sewage reservoir, installed with a valve, to receive water from a nearby ditch when the tides go up, to mix up the sewage with water and disguise the effluents. When the tide ebbed, the valve was opened and the diluted sewage released into the canal.

The following day, Do Thi Thu Hang, general director and board chairwoman of the Sonadezi Corporation, who is also a National Assembly deputy, rejected accusations that the company had sneakily dumped untreated waste into the river while meeting with the press on the sidelines of the NA's session in Hanoi.

On Saturday, Thanh Nien reporters talked with several residents who live near the company's waste treatment plant. They were furious with Hang's statement.

Le Thi Nam, 75, in Long Thanh District said her family had eight shrimp and fish ponds but they recently gave up their business as the shrimp and fish gradually died from water pollution.

Nguyen Van Nhan, a long-time fisherman on the canals that run into the Dong Nai River, said he had not caught much fish for several years now.

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"The water turns dark and sticky whenever the tides go down, so how can fish and shrimp ever survive?" he said.

Other residents said the polluted water had spoiled their orchards.

"We have reported the matter to local authorities in the past but are yet to receive any reply. We are forced to live with the pollution."

Nguyen Thanh Phat, another local, said: "The pollution has lasted for years. How can the company leader say they did not do anything?"

"We want environment authorities to calculate the damages caused by pollution so that we can be compensated."

By the time it was caught, the Sonadezi Corporation the main investor in industrial zones in Dong Nai Province had signed contracts to treat sewage for 42 companies, with 80 percent of the sewage coming from dyeing and textile production.

In 2009, the company was fined a combined VND34 million (US$1,650) for dumping excessive sewage (two to five times higher than the allowed amount) by provincial authorities.

Inspectors from the General Environment Office had levied fines of VND31 million ($1,500) in 2010 and VND75 million ($3,640) last February on similar charges.

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