Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh Friday ordered the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and Ha Tinh Province authorities to investigate suspicions that a Taiwanese company has discharged untreated wastewater into the sea causing mass fish deaths.
Binh ordered strict measures against violators and called for emergency solutions to end the devastating environmental disaster, which is affecting livelihoods of fishing villages across central Vietnam.
A large number of dead fish have been washed ashore in Ha Tinh and several nearby provinces - Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue - for the past two weeks, apparently due to industrial pollution.
Earlier, a Ha Tinh fisherman reported to local authorities that he saw a large sewage pipe discharging wastewater into the sea in the area on April 4. The pipe was lying around 13 meters under the surface and around 1.5 kilometers from the Vung Ang Economic Zone, he said.
A spokesperson from Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Company later admitted that the pipe belongs to the company, which is building the massive Formosa project in Vung Ang.
Khau Nhan Kiet, a company official, said companies involved in the project discharge 12,000 liters of wastewater a day through the pipe. He said the wastewater had already been treated before being discharged.
Kiet admitted that the company had used imported chemical substances to clean the project's pipes. But he claimed that the substances were properly diluted and after the cleaning process, the wastewater was adequately treated
Ho Anh Tuan, who oversees all economic zones in the province, said the company had obtained approval from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to install a 1.5-kilometer pipe to discharge treated wastewater.
However, Duong Hoang Tung, deputy director of the Environment Department under the environment ministry, dismissed the claim, saying that Formosa has never been licensed to discharge wastewater into the sea.
“Relevant agencies are conducting all of the relevant procedures and will issue such a license if they found the system qualified under required standards,” Tung said.
He said Formosa's wastewater samples have been tested every three months and all of the samples taken since 2015 have met environmental standards.
Tung also said test results for newly collected samples from the waters with mass fish deaths will be announced in the next few days.
Environmental experts are suspicious that Formosa has discharged untreated wastewater into the sea through the pipe.
“If the wastewater was properly treated, why did they have to keep the pipe hidden?” asked Nguy Thi Khanh, director of the Hanoi-based environment advocate GreenID.
Khanh said the situation can be worse when more companies enter the economic zone in the future.
Dead fish and clams saw on the beach in Ha Tinh Province. Photo: Nguyen Dung/Thanh Nien
Le Phat Quoi, a researcher at the Natural Resources and Environment Institute of the National University, Ho Chi Minh City, said that Google Map images show water in an abnormal color stretching south along the coast from Vung Ang.
“In my opinion, pollution from Vung Ang was the major cause for the mass fish deaths,” he said.
Quoi said that sewage pipes, if installed, should be near the surface for easy inspection.
“Treating wastewater is costly. If a company has a secret pipe, people will automatically assume that it is discharging untreated waste," he said.
On Friday, officials from the environment ministry worked with Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Company and leaders of the Vung Ang 1 Thermal Plant, both are based in Vung Ang Economic Zone.
However, no reporter was allowed to attend and no information on the meeting was unveiled.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade is scheduled to work with Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Company on April 26.