As if one environmental disaster were not enough, a new group of farmers in central Vietnam has been painfully watching tons of fish die the past few days.
This time the culprit has been identified: a local sugar factory that was caught disposing of untreated waste straight into a main river in Thanh Hoa Province.
Authorities have suspended the factory of Hoa Binh Sugar Company for six months and ordered it to clean up the Buoi River. It will have to compensate affected farmers VND1.4 billion (US$62,800), local media reported.
That means each of the 34 families, who lost all of their fish totaling 17 tons between May 4 and 7, will receive around $2,000 on average. More fish in the wild might have been killed.
The company will also need to set up a proper waste treatment system before it can resume operation.
Its factory had been running for about a month before getting caught of discharging untreated wastewater into the river. It is unclear how the sewage pipe, easily spotted above the water, had not been detected sooner.
Nguyen Tran Anh, deputy director of Hoa Binh’s environment department, said the company apparently had two big violations: it discharged waste into a river without permission and the waste was not treated.
Fish farmers in the area told local media that such reckless practices have cost them several years of hard work and investment. All of their fish had to be destroyed after local authorities concluded they were not safe for consumption.
Nguyen Van Vung, who had more than one ton of fish killed, said he lost more than VND100 million, or around $4,500.
“I’ve put my entire fortune in the fish, and now it’s all gone.”
I’ve put my entire fortune in the fish, and now it’s all gone.” -- Nguyen Van Vung, farmer
Others said their fish were ready for harvest and they were just waiting for a good price. That was when the disaster struck.
Nguyen Manh Hung, deputy director of the company, promised to pay the full compensation to the affected families by May 18, news website VnExpress reported.
Hung said his company built the factory "in a rush" to buy sugarcane from farmers as it was the end of the season. It did not have time to build the waste treatment system, he said.
He claimed the company suffered VND16 billion of losses after more than a month in operation.
Nguyen Khac Chuyen, the company director, dismissed local residents’ accusations that the sewage was so toxic it killed fish very fast.
Chuyen said all chemicals used at the factory are legal. “Authorities in Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa should open an investigation to determine if we are the only one discharging dirty waste into the river,” he said, as cited by VnExpress. The report did not name any of the chemicals used.
Just a little further to the south, the four central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue are also battling their own devastating mass fish deaths.
A Taiwanese-invested steel complex, which admitted it has a large sewage pipe going straight into the sea, is the main suspect but officials have said they need more time to determine the exact cause or causes of what has been one of the worst environmental disasters in Vietnam in recent years.