Junk yard village trades public health for profits

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 A man removes parts of a motorbike tire for recycling, a lucrative job at Te Lo village in Vinh Phuc Province

Salvaging vehicle parts has brought good money to Te Lo village in the northern province of Vinh Phuc.

But the business has taken a serious toll on public health.

In 1995, people in Te Lo Commune, Yen Lac District began buying up old cars and motorbikes to sell them for parts.

The village has become a shining example of how the north's traditional trade villages can adapt to the global economy.

The village is full of villas and rich young entrepeneurs bosses.

But the business dumps nearly a ton of untreated oil sludge and iron rust into the community, every day.

The waste is discharged into a common dumping ground near a cemetery or along the banks of the local Phan river.

Nguyen Dinh Hoi, head of the village, said the community may be upgraded into an industrial zone with waste treatment facilities.

"But I don't know when that day will come," he said.

To protect themselves, the villagers have outsourced the most dangerous jobs, like recycling batteries or burning scrap metal, to other communes, spreading pollution all over the district.

At an industrial zone on the edge of the commune, a collection of steel factories have operated every night for the past ten years.

Nguyen Thi Huong, a resident living next to the industrial zone, said that the factories operate from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., when electricity is cheapest.

Every night, residents in the neighborhood have to inhale smoke emitted by furnaces and suffer the din of commercial mills, she said.

With no access to tap water, the residents rely on groundwater that, according to Huong, is now highly contaminated with iron.

Ice cubes are red and tea is black as oil, in the community.

Hundreds of residents use the water every day, despite the fact that they all suspect it is contaminated with iron and lead.

Huong said no governmental agencies have come to test the water.

Almost all of the houses in Te Lo village are currently filtering their water.

Lungs and cancer

Nguyen Kim Muu, a nurse and head of the medical center at Te Lo Commune for the past 23 years, said that "the number of cancer fatalities in Te Lo has never been so high."

Muu said nine people in the commune were killed by cancer in 2009 and the number jumped to 11 last year.

Most of the cases begin with respiratory and stomach ailments, he said.

Statistics from the medical center showed that 48 percent of the 7,800 patients seeking basic examinations in 2010 suffered from respiratory illnesses.

Hundreds were battling chronic conditions.

He blamed it all on the heightened exposure to carcinogenic waste from recycled vehicles.

Reports at Dong Van Commune medical health center near Te Lo also showed that most patients seeking medical attention suffer from respiratory problems such as rhinitis, sore throat, or pneumonia.

Those who lack health insurance cards tend to go straight to the pharmacies, fearing that examinations will only cost them money, said Nguyen Thi Phuong, a nurse at the center.

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