Train and boat lavatories threaten public health, environment

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A lack of septic tanks on trains and boats has caused a startling amount of human waste to be dumped into waterways and railway communities

A train passing through a residential area in Hanoi's Gia Lam District. Trains discharge about four tons of feces and 60,000 liters of urine every day into the environment.

Transit officials and rural residents complain that the open lavatories on the nation's trains and tourist boats have created a grave public nuisance.

Trains discharge about four tons of feces and 60,000 liters of urine every day, according to Pham Quoc Cuong of Vietnam Railway Department.

Vo Xuan Thuong, a resident living near the railway in the central Binh Dinh Province's Tuy Phuoc District, said passengers on trains also throw garbage out their windows.

Thuong said he and the community sit and hope that no one on the train will use the toilet as they pass through their small community. "It's easy to collect garbage but we can't clean up feces all day," he said.

Huynh Cong Huynh of Phu Yen Province's Tuy An District also complained that they have suffered from stench that emanates off of the nearby railway tracks. "It always stinks all around my house on windy days because trains disposed feces and urine directly on the railway," he said.

The situation is equally bad on the water.

Phan Xuan Anh, director of a waterway tourism company in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa, home to the popular resort town of Nha Trang, said that around 250 tourist vessels travel to four islets off the coast of Nha Trang. Nearly all of these boats, he said, lack septic tanks and, instead, empty human waste directly into the bay.

Dang Van Khoa, chairman of the HCMC Nature and Environment Conservation Society, said the threats posed by the lavatories on trains and boats should not be ignored.

"It is unacceptable for these toilets to continue to discharge waste directly onto the nation's railways and in the water," he said. "The railway authorities have installed closed toilets on some trains but they should be installed on all trains."

Meanwhile, an official from the Railway Environmental Protection Committee said that rural residents' decision to occupy the railway safety zone has created a human health threat.

"It wouldn't be a serious problem if people hadn't illegally occupied the railway's safety corridors of 15 meters on each side," said Le Trong Tuan, deputy head of the committee's Science and Technology Division.

"The railway surface could absorb water. Sunshine will also facilitate the decomposition of waste and thus it would not affect the environment and human health."

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