Authorities in the northern Thanh Hoa Province have fined a military-owned pesticide firm more than VND420 million (US$19,900) for discharging toxic waste into the environment and other violations of environmental laws.
Nicotex Thanh Thai Joint Stock Company based in Cam Thuy District was also temporarily closed down.
The province People's Committee, the local government, said the company had not submitted to relevant authorities documents about stocks of toxic wastes it held or classified them and failed to make plans to mitigate the impacts of toxic waste on the environment, label them, or meet safety requirements while transporting and storing them.
It ordered the company to quickly collect and treat pesticides it had illegally buried as well as those it kept in its premises after they had expired.
Two weeks ago nearly 1,000 residents of three local communes submitted a petition to online newspaper VietNamNet saying the company should compensate them for illegally burying tons of toxic pesticides, which they said has seriously affected their health and farming activities.
Since the company opened its plant in 1999 the environment around it has become severely polluted, with pesticides leaking into the soil and water, they said.
In the last 15 years the number of people dying of cancer and other diseases has increased.
Women have been giving birth to babies with deformities and disabilities and others have become infertile.
Fish, cattle, and fowl raised in the communes have died.
The locals have repeatedly called on authorities to investigate, but despite several investigations the conclusion has always been the same: the company's pollution indexes are within permissible limits.
On August 25 hundreds of locals blocked a road to prevent a truck from exiting the company, suspecting is was en route to dump pesticides.
Four days later the company admitted to authorities that it had buried 350 kg of pesticides, but locals insisted that the volume was higher.
On August 29 the authorities ordered the company to immediately collect the buried pesticides and transport them to another location for treatment.
As the company did not provide an exact date for doing this, the local residents stormed into it with hoes, shovels, and crowbars to dig up the soil.
They discovered dozens of drums with chemicals that were rusty and smelly and appeared to have been buried a long time ago.
On September 2 they unearthed a further 21 drums with chemicals and pesticides from a nearby dumping ground.
Following the discovery the authorities suspended the company's operations for a month pending investigation.
The company would be allowed to resume operations if it repairs the damages it caused to the environment, they said.