Raw sewage from Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport being discharged directly into the environment is just one example of Vietnam's lax management of human waste.
A truck pumping toilet waste gathered by the Soc Son Urban Environment Company, which is in charge of dealing with sewage from Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport. The truck was later seen pumping the waste directly to a rice field in Bac Ninh Province. Photo by Ha An
Guess where the toilet waste from airplanes and airport terminals end up?
In the case of Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport which services more than 11 million passengers a year the answer is nearby rice fields.
The Soc Son Urban Environment Company, which is in charge of collecting human waste from the airport, only transports the waste to a nearby site.
Nguyen Truong Giang, director of the Soc Son Urban Environment Company, said his company hired the Hanoi Drainage and Environment Hygiene Company to treat the waste because Soc Son lacks facilities to do so itself.
"They send trucks to carry the waste from our site every day," he said.
However, Giang said he is unclear about how they handle the waste after that.
"Each year, Noi Bai International Airport discharges more than 4,000 tons of excreta. All have been taken away by the Hanoi Drainage and Environment Hygiene Company," Giang said, adding that previously, the airport simply discharges toilet waste directly into the environment.
"The airport pumped sewage into nearby fields and ponds without concern for how it would affect the environment," he said.
On August 31, Vietweek reporters followed a Hanoi Drainage and Environment Hygiene Company truck carrying away waste from the site near the airport where the Soc Son Urban Environment Company stores it.
After driving for nearly 80 kilometers, the truck stopped in an uninhabited area near Cho Town in Bac Ninh Province and discharged the waste to a rice field.
The driver drove away immediately upon seeing passersby approaching.
Tu Minh Quan, director of Hanoi Drainage and Environment Hygiene Company, admitted his firm had been contracted to treat airport waste.
He claimed that his company subcontracted the Song Gianh Company and the Ha Noi Urban Environmental Hygiene Joint Stock Company to treat the waste.
However, he was unable substantiate that claim with documentation.
"We agreed to give them the waste for free and thus, we do not keep records," Quan claimed.
Meanwhile, the two firms told Vietweek they have never taken any waste from Quan's company.
Ngo Minh Le, manager of the Song Gianh Company's Hanoi Branch, said his company agreed to take toilet waste based on demand for compost fertilizer.
"But we have never received any waste from them because we have yet to experience the demand," he said.
Nguyen Dinh Hue, general secretary of the Vietnam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment, said human waste from the airport should be treated properly because it can spread diseases.
"Some passengers may be coming from areas where there is a pandemic. Moreover, the chemicals used in airplane toilets can also harm the environment if discharged without treatment," he said.
The case highlights Hanoi's lax management of toilet waste, known for being a notorious vector for both viral and bacterial diseases.
According to the World Health Organization, about 2.4 billion people across the globe do not have access to safe means of disposing of excreta and waste water. Diseases caused by unsafe water, poor sanitation, and poor personal and domestic hygiene are responsible for 4 percent of all deaths and 5.7 percent of all disabilities and illnesses worldwide.
The Hanoi Environment Police Department says that Song Gianh and Hanoi Urban Environmental Hygiene are the only two companies in Vietnam qualified to treat human waste.
Lieutenant Colonel Pham Hoang Cam said he ordered a probe into Noi Bai International Airport's handling of sewage following Vietweek's investigation.
He admitted that the treatment of toilet waste in Hanoi is a big problem.
"Hanoi has more than 100 companies with hundreds of specialized tank trucks that remove household toilet waste. However, not all of them have contracted with the two qualified companies," he said.
On August 6, local residents caught a tank truck belonging to the Thang Long Urban Environment and Construction Company discharging waste into a sewer near the To Lich River in Hanoi's Ba Dinh District.
The driver, Nguyen Thanh Tam, admitted that the waste had come from the toilet of a house on Hoang Quoc Viet Street.
A day earlier, Hanoi traffic police also caught a tank truck discharging waste into a city sewer.
In a recent investigation, Tien Phong (Pioneer) newspaper exposed the fact that several new residential areas in Hanoi are discharging untreated wastewater, including from toilets, directly into the environment.
My Dinh Me Tri, a new urban area funded by the Song Da Urban & Industrial Zone Investment and Development Joint Stock Company, discharges untreated wastewater into the Cau Nang Canal.
At the new Van Khe urban area funded by the Song Da Thang Long Company, many residents have complained about pollution.
Ngoc, a local resident, said wastewater has been discharged directly into the Nhue River.
"I don't know when we will live in a clean environment," she said.
Lieu. Col. Cam of the Hanoi environment police force said it is difficult to control the "rampant" discharge of toilet waste into the environment.
He said there should be strict regulations on the management of tank trucks that transport human waste.
"Moreover, Hanoi must build more plants to treat toilet waste. Otherwise, it will continue to be discharged into the environment."
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