Industrial smoke clouds lungs in northern homes

TN News

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Environmental agencies admit companies avoid detection by polluting at night.

Vu Thi Nam and all her neighbors have had to seal even the tiniest openings in their homes to prevent industrial dust from seeping in at night.

“But we still can’t prevent the terrible odors from creeping through,” said Nam of Hanoi’s Hai Ba Trung District.

“Stenches from the industrial waste at the 10/10 Textile Joint Stock Company cover our neighborhood every night,” she said, adding that the firm releases its toxic smoke at night to avoid detection by environmental authorities.

Sealing up their homes is Hai Ba Trung residents’ last defense after their countless complaints have fallen on deaf ears at local agencies.

Nam’s neighborhood is not alone. Thousands of residents in Hanoi and several nearby provinces are reeling from air pollution caused by industrial production, and concerned agencies appear unmoved on the issue.

A worker at 10/10 Textile Company who asked to remain anonymous said the most poisonous odor was from a chemical used to produce mosquito nets.   

“It would surely harm anyone who inhaled it,” he said.

DECREE RAISES FINES AGAINST POLLUTERS

The Vietnamese government has moved to prevent environmental violations by raising the maximum pollution fine to more than US$27,000, some seven times higher than the current rate.

According to a decree that will take effect on March 1, violators of environment laws could face a warning as the most lenient measure, or a fine between VND100,000 ($5.4) and VND500 million ($27,078).

Violators could also have their business licenses suspended or revoked as well as being ordered to restore damages done to the environment.

Production, trading and services facilities violating environmental laws could also be ordered to move away from residential areas and their violations will be publicly announced by the media, according to the new decree.

Statistics showed a total of 4,545 cases of environment violations were detected nationwide in 2009, more than four times higher than the previous year. Among localities with violations, Hanoi topped the list with 482 cases, followed by Hai Phong with 159 cases and Ho Chi Minh City with 132 cases.

Nguyen Van Cong, a resident living near the factory, said he could smell the odor from as far as Lac Trung Street, located two kilometers away.

Many residents said they find a thick layer of dust on their floors in the morning if they accidentally forget to close their windows at night.

Truong Quoc Bao, a resident in Hai Ba Trung District’s Vinh Tuy Ward, said the pollution had caused sinusitis in many locals.

People in nearby provinces have also complained of local firms that release emissions at night.

Vi Thi Nu, a vegetable farmer in Bac Ninh Province, said the Viet Nhat Glass Joint Venture Company on National Highway 5 emitted foul odors every evening.

“A blanket of dust covers my house and vegetables on the farm,” she said.

Ha Minh Hoa, head of the Bac Ninh Department of Natural Resources and Environment’s environmental section, admitted that it was well-known that Viet Nhat Glass had not installed a proper smoke treatment system.

He said the same was true for many firms in Bac Ninh that release toxins into the air under the cover of darkness.

Further south on National Highway 5, Hung Yen Province residents also complained of industrial pollution.

“I often feel a stinging-hot pain in my eyes and nearly vomited last time I inhaled the foul odors along the highway,” said Duong Dinh Toi of the province’s Van Lam District.

A Thanh Nien reporter recently witnessed two firms on the Hung Yen-Bac Ninh border, Viet Hung Glass Company and a Hoa Phat Group factory, emitting thick layers of smoke at night.

Tran Dang Anh, head of the environment section at Hung Yen Department of Natural Resources and Environment, said he had never seen the smoke, though he had viewed surveillance pictures of the two companies.

Anh said concerned agencies had never inspected the firm at night because inspectors only worked during business hours.

Air pollution is even worse in Thai Nguyen Province, where long-standing steel production firms use old machines that don’t meet antipollution standards.

Nguyen Thi Thu, who has worked at Thai Nguyen Town’s Gia Sang Steel Company for 20 years and has a house nearby, said the firm had five chimneys, four of which release emissions.

“The company produces smoke mainly at night. When the humidity is high, it is easy to see the yellow color in the air, which is very difficult to breaths,” she said.

Many industrial firms located in residential areas in Thai Nguyen, including the Cao Ngan Thermoelectricity Company, have been operating for years.

Nguyen Duc Chi, a town resident whose home neighbors Cao Ngan, said dust and bad odors spread into the houses in his neighborhood every night from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. the next morning.

Tran Thi Minh Huong, head of environment section at the Thai Nguyen Department of Natural Resources and Environment, said not all local companies could ensure that they produced smoke that met safety standards.

“We inspect the companies once or twice a year. But the results could be inexact if they implement measures to reduce production during inspections,” she said.

She also said the strictest fine exacted on companies, dozens of millions of Vietnamese dong, had failed to deter violations.

Reported by Phan Le Tung

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