New mercury test raises red flag about Hanoi's worsening pollution

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Hanoi's air quality has been repeatedly ranked "unhealthy." Photo credit: Le Hieu/VnExpress Hanoi's air quality has been repeatedly ranked "unhealthy." Photo credit: Le Hieu/VnExpress

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Concerns over the air quality in Hanoi have resurfaced after a recent test detected mercury in a rainwater sample collected in the city.
Hoang Duong Tung, deputy director of Environment Department at the ministry, said a station on Nguyen Van Cu Street, Long Bien District has detected mercury in the rain.
"We need equipment and technologies for further studies. Vietnam does not have the tools to test mercury in the air yet," he told Nguoi Lao Dong Newspaper on Tuesday.
Tung made the comments after various media outlets reported concerns over possible "mercury pollution" in the city.
He criticized the outlets for causing public panic and emphasized that his station has yet to detect "mercury pollution in the air."
In their reports, local media also interviewed local scientists, who disagreed over whether the city's residents should really be worried.
Dr. Tran Hong Con, a chemistry lecturer at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi, told VnExpress that exposure to mercury or its compounds is “very dangerous” and can severely damage one’s brain, liver, kidneys and lungs.
Con cited scientific studies which have proved that mercury in all forms, except its elemental liquid form, can produce toxicity or death with less than a gram.
Mercury can be inhaled or absorbed through bare skin, causing one to suffer tremors, impaired cognitive skills, sleep disturbance, or worse, insomnia and memory loss, according to studies.
Half of atmospheric mercury comes from volcanoes while the rest from human-generated sources, mostly from stationary combustion of coal.
Con said mercury in Hanoi likely comes from incinerators that burn industrial and medical waste.
But Pham Ngoc Dang, vice chairman of the Vietnam Association of Conservation of Nature and Environment, said there is nothing to worry yet.
“The fact that an air monitoring station detected an increase in mercury at one place is rather arbitrary. It’s not enough to conclude that mercury is all over the air in Hanoi,” Dang told VTCNews.
He said the mercury might have vaporized from nearby gas stations at the time of the measuring.
The government needs to take serious measures to continue monitoring the air and take immediate actions when there are health risks, he said.
The Real-time Air Quality Index on aqicn.org has continued ranking Hanoi’s atmosphere as “unhealthy,” which means everyone may experience negative effects and children and people with respiratory conditions should avoid spending time outdoor.
Hanoi government already warned about the air quality of the capital city in 2004, when all pollutants measured went beyond safe limits. The figures have kept increasing.
The National Environment Report in 2013 showed the air quality in Hanoi was poor most days of the year.
French company ARIA Technologies in 2012 ranked Hanoi the most polluted city in Southeast Asia and among those with the worst air pollution in Asia, with the dust concentration exceeding recommended levels many times.

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