Residents clash with polluters

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Company sends goons to beat up protesters


Nguyen Van Tuan was attacked by truck drivers on August 29 after he and others at Da Nang City's Hoa Lien Commune blocked vehicles from entering a construction site. A survey by Nielsen found environmental concerns in Vietnam has shifted from climate change to environmental pollution.

The pollution controversy in Da Nang City's Hoa Lien Commune reached its peak early this week when thousands of residents surrounded the office of a local company that has been polluting their neighborhoods and assaulting community members who dare protest.

Earlier, residents had blocked a street leading to the Golden Hills Urban Area project in the central city's Hoa Vang District because they said construction trucks were polluting the area with dust and dirt.

There were several similar incidents over the past month, the most significant of which was when the furious community stopped all trucks to the site around the clock for five days August 25-29.

But at around 9:30 p.m. on August 29, five men in two trucks arrived at the house of Nguyen Van Tuan, a leader of the truck-stopping crowd, and attacked him with iron pipes and swords, seriously injuring the 40-year-old man.

The attackers fled the scene after Tan's wife and son ran to neighboring houses for help.

After taking Tuan to the hospital, the frustrated residents gathered in a crowd of more than a thousand people and surrounded the office of the construction project's investor, the Ho Chi Minh City-based construction company Trung Nam Group, at the construction site.

They smashed the glass windows of the facility and demanded that the company hand over the attackers. However, no one was present at the company and the residents stayed there until Tuesday morning.

Dang Phu Hanh, deputy chairman of Hoa Vang People's Committee, the local government, told Thanh Nien that the residents were frustrated because the company had polluted the streets with dirt carried by the trucks to fill the site.

He said the company had ignored an order from his agency to regularly clean the streets.

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Hanh said police launched an inspection on Monday night to identify the men who attacked Tuan. Another investigation was also launched into charges of property destruction at the company's office.

Meanwhile, Trung Nam Group said the company had not prompted the men to attack Tam. However, it admitted that one of the two trucks that showed up at Tuan's house belonged to the company and that it would investigate its drivers.

A similar incident occurred in the southeastern province of Dong Nai on Tuesday when a crowd of angry people gathered in front of Kim Phong Investment Production and Trading Company in Nhon Trach District's Phuoc Thien Commune demanding that the company cease its rampant pollution.

Residents said the company has continuously discharged untreated wastewater and fumes into the local environment, seriously affecting the health of people living in the surrounding area.

The Dong Nai Department of Natural Resources and Environment said it had fined Kim Phong eight times since 2002 for polluting the environment. The fines have totaled VND79.5 million (US$3,817) so far.

Growing concerns

According to a recent survey by market survey group Nielsen, concern about climate change/global warming among online consumers around the world now takes a back-seat to other environmental issues such as air and water pollution, water shortages, packaging waste and use of pesticides.

The 2011 Global Online Environment & Sustainability Survey, with more than 25,000 Internet respondents in 51 countries, found the areas where concern is mounting fastest among 73 percent of global online consumers is worry over the use of pesticides, packaging waste and water shortages, with reported concern increasing 16, 14 and 13 percentage points, respectively. 

"Vietnamese show similar concerns toward water, with 75 percent of consumers concerned about water pollution and 70 percent concerned about water shortages," it said.

Fifty percent were concerned by packaging waste, while 46 percent are "very concerned" with use of pesticides.

According to Vietnamese Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, about 289 pesticide stores in 39 cities and provinces nationwide are becoming "hotspots" of environmental pollution.

The ministry rated 51 stores as either "extremely serious polluters" or "seriously polluters." Thanh Hoa and Nghe An topped the list with pesticide pollution estimated to have contaminated tens of thousands of cubic meters of land, it said.

Nielsen's survey also found concern for other environmental issues are taking a higher priority in the minds of consumers than global warming and are rising with greater intensity.

"Three out of four global consumers rated air pollution (77 percent) and water pollution (75 percent) as top concerns, both increasing six percentage points compared to 2009," Nielsen said in a statement to launch the survey on Monday.

The Hanoi Department of Natural Resources and Environment last week warned against environmental pollution posing serious risks to human health.

The agency's statistics showed that the city discharges between 100 million and 120 million liters of industrial wastewater per day. Many old industrial zones can only treat between 20 and 30 percent of the total discharged wastewater.

"Wastewater from agriculture is another source of pollution. Water in rivers and lakes are heavily polluted. Dust, noise and toxic gases from industrial production are increasing at many places," it said.

On Tuesday, the Farmers' Association of Dong Nai Province's Long Thanh District said it has received 186 petitions from its members demanding compensation to their losses caused by Long Thanh Industrial Park's Wastewater Treatment Company an affiliate of the state-owned Sonadezi Company to their farms.

They demanded a total of VND11.5 billion ($552,000) in compensation and local authorities are coordinating with the association to verify their actual losses.

On August 4, Dong Nai environmental police caught the state-owned Sonadezi Corporation's affiliate red-handed discharging untreated waste into the Dong Nai River.

Police said it is estimated that the plant has discharged around 14 trillion liters of sewage into the Dong Nai River over the last five years.

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