Septic tank wastes dumped into rivers, lakes in Hanoi

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Private operators discharge waste collected from septic tanks into the Yen So Lake in Hanoi on November 16

Cleaning septic tanks has become a service much in demand in Hanoi, but poor oversight by civic authorities means the cleaners empty the sewage directly into lakes and rivers.

The tankers used by the cleaners, each four or five cubic meters in capacity, end the day at around 11 p.m. on the banks of major rivers like the Red, Nhue, To Lich, Lu, and Set where they dump the waste, Thanh Nien reporters discovered after following the vehicles.

Sometimes the drivers are a bit more discreet and park the tanker above a manhole and discharge the waste through a hole in the bottom.

Waste from hospitals are also discharged directly into the environment.

On November 16 Thanh Nien found one truck stopping at the Central ENT Hospital, a house, and a clinic before dumping everything it had collected into the Yen So Lake in Hoang Mai District later that day.

Locals, many of whom breed fish in the lake, remain unaware of the dumping since the tankers would stop at some repair shop near the lake.

They said they see tankers often but thought they merely stopped for repairs or a wash.

Hundreds of such tankers have been legally registered and operated by more than 100 private companies, according to the Hanoi police.

The tankers are usually disguised as "environmental" vehicles, and carry only mobile phone numbers.

Each serves three or four customers a day, but up to 10 on a busy day.

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Hung of Lien Hong Commune, Dan Phuong District on the outskirts, who owns three tankers, said there are more than 50 operators in his commune alone since the service is lucrative.

The companies charge around VND400,000 (US$19) for a cubic meter of waste, and make a profit of millions of dong every day, he said.

It is no surprise since the Hanoi Urban Environment Company, which offers the same service, only covers 180 public toilets around the city.

Doan Hong Quang, director of the department that offers the service, said the waste collected by the trucks should be treated with chemicals and microorganisms in a tank for at least 30 days to avoid threats to public health.

"Waste from hospitals is very likely to spread diseases."

Tran Quoc Dung, an environmental police officer in the city, said authorities should give Quang more tankers and personnel to do the job and be strict with private operators.

The licensing should have more stipulations related to safety and hygiene, and the penalty for discharging the waste untreated should be harsher, he said.

He said 30 tankers have been fined this year, but the maximum penalty of VND12.7 million (US$610) is not a deterrent.

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