Pollution soon to render Dong Nai River unusable

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For decades, ‘development’ has meant allowing industrial parks to discharge untreated wastewater directly into millions of local residents’ water supplies.

The Dong Nai River supplies water to some 15 million people in southern Vietnam, but that has not stopped callous companies from dumping so much toxic sludge in the river that scientists say it will soon be too poisonous to use.

“Tests since 2006 have found pollution near the Hoa An Pump Station has increased to serious levels with an especially high concentration of organic [toxic] substances,” said Truong Khac Hoanh, vice director of Thu Duc Water Supply Company in Ho Chi Minh City.

“With such an increase in pollution, this water supply will soon be unusable,” he said.

A top official at the Binh An Water Plant in HCMC also said the Dong Nai would soon be like its tributary the Thi Vai, where aquatic life can’t survive due to the high levels of pollution.

The official blamed the large and rapidly-growing number of industrial parks along the river, as well as boats and households that also dump their waste and trash in the waterway.

The 437-kilometer Dong Nai River originates in Lam Dong Province’s Lang Biang highlands and flows toward the East Sea through Dak Nong, Binh Phuoc, Dong Nai, Binh Duong, HCMC, Long An and Tien Giang provinces. The Saigon and Thi Vai rivers are among its tributaries.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment reported the river receives around 1.54 billion liters of wastewater from 70 industrial parks per day alongside some 1.73 billion liters of wastewater from residential areas.

But industrial wastewater effluents are more dangerous than homemade waste and toxic as they carry far more pollutants than household wastewater.

Polluted groundwater

On Sunday, residents at Binh Chieu Ward in HCMC’s Thu Duc District complained of a paralyzing stench emanating from the dark water of the Ba Bo Canal, which flows into the Saigon River. It was soon found that the Dong An and Song Than industrial parks were both dumping polluted water into the small stream sandwiched between HCMC and Binh Duong Province.

Thousands of households living along the canal have suffered for the past several years due to facilities like Dong An and Song Than and local agencies say the area’s ground water supplies have also been ruined by the pollution.

Vu Phuoc Lanh of Binh Chieu Ward said he had first pulled up polluted well water when his family moved beside the canal six years ago. But he said it had gotten much worse, even “extreme,” in the last year.

His wife said her family had to use the water supply for cooking and even to boil for drinking water, despite its disgusting stench.

“It’s really miserable, we feel like we are using poisonous water,” said Lanh’s neighbor Nguyen Van Dung.

A recent test found all water samples from Ba Bo Canal polluted with metals and four of the six collected samples contaminated with fecal coliforms bacteria.

Statistics from the Thu Duc Water Supply Company showed 5,534 of the total 7,464 households in Binh Chieu Ward were now using groundwater due to lack of a tap water supply.

Tarnished tap

The Dong Nai Department of Natural Resources and Environment conducted a test in the fourth quarter this year finding eight potentially harmful elements exceeding safety levels in the Dong Nai River, including Coliform bacteria and total suspended solids.

The tested samples were collected in a river section in the town of Bien Hoa, the source of more than one billion liters of tap water pumped to Ho Chi Minh City every day.

In October, the HCMC Preventive Health Center also found high concentrations of organic substances and iron in the same river section.

The agency also took samples at the source of the Binh An Water Supply Company and found concentrations of 1.38 milligrams of iron and 0.8 milligram of ammonium per liter of water. The allowed levels per liter are 1 milligram of iron and 0.2 milligram of ammonium.

Out of control waste

Nguyen Hoang Hung, director of the Dong Nai Department of Natural Resources and Environment’s Environmental Monitoring Center, said the Dong Nai River section in Bien Hoa was suffering from “uncontrolled” wastewater discharges from industrial parks.

“The pollution comes from Binh Duong Province through the Siep stream and from industrial parks (IP) in Bien Hoa, including Bien Hoa 1, Bien Hoa 2, Amata and Loteco as well as small production facilities in residential areas,” he said.

“The Linh, San Mau and Lua streams in Dong Nai are also seriously polluted from these sources,” he added.

The center reported that four industrial parks in Dong Nai were discharging untreated wastewater because they didn’t have any treatment systems, including 100 firms at the Bien Hoa 1 IP.

Hoang Van Thong, head of the Dong Nai Environment Protection Agency, said most of these 100 facilities were built in the 1970s without any wastewater treatment plants.

“The Bien Hoa 1 IP asked Bien Hoa 2 IP to help treat 600,000 liters of the total 15 million liters wastewater every day while the rest goes directly to Dong Nai River,” he said.

Professor Lam Minh Triet, a Dong Nai expert at Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City, said many provinces like Binh Duong and Dong Nai had focused solely on setting up IPs rather than on waste control or environmental protection.

“Scientists have been warning of the river’s worsening quality for ten years, but every warning has been ignored,” he said.

Vedan rejects report on its role in river pollution

Taiwanese MSG maker Vedan has rejected a scientific report which concludes that the company caused 90 percent of the pollution to the Thi Vai River in southern Vietnam.

The company said the report lacked a sound scientific base.

The report, released by the Natural Resources and Environment Institute of the Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City on Monday, found that Vedan Vietnam’s wastewater accounted for around 90 percent of the total discharge into the river.

Vedan was found to have discharged between 35,000 and 45,000 cubic meters of untreated wastewater directly to the Thi Vai every day for newly, a decade and a half, a much higher level of contamination than allowed, the report said.

The report, conducted in February, concluded that Vedan was responsible for the pollution of the river, which led to the damage of nearly 2,000 hectares of fish and shrimp ponds in Dong Nai, Ba Ria-Vung Tau and Ho Chi Minh City. The Natural Resources and Environment Institute didn’t release a monetary figure for the damage.

Rejecting the findings, Vedan said the study was made in the dry season when high salinity levels could compromise the results. The Taiwanese firm also said the area affected by its wastewater was smaller than estimated in the report.

The Natural Resources and Environment Institute, however, said the study was conducted carefully by scientists, using the most modern equipment available.

Vedan has refused to take full responsibility several times since inspectors in September last year found that the company had illegally dumped untreated wastewater into Thi Vai River for the previous 14 years.

Source: Thanh Nien, Agencies

Reported by Hoang Tuan

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