Amid the mysterious deaths of at least 100 tons of fish in the sea off central Vietnam, the environment ministry has urged all cities and provinces on the coast and with rivers to review how waste is disposed of.
Minister Tran Hong Ha has ordered proper and comprehensive checks of major waste treatment plants in coastal and riverine areas – their construction, operation and whether local officials have been doing a good job monitoring them.
Ha named Hanoi and the central provinces of Thanh Hoa and Quang Ngai as places that need answers to their prolonged environmental problems.
Thanh Hoa has been facing a mass fish death problem in its Buoi River since May 4. A part of the river has turned dark green and stinky and the problem is spreading downstream.
Local officials estimated that more than 17 tons of fish in farms along the river have been killed as of Sunday in addition to deaths in the natural environment. Farmers are estimated to have lost at least VND1 billion (US$45,000).
Nguyen Duc Quyen, the province’s vice chairman, said at a recent meeting that the water pollution is “serious” and it is threatening water supply to many people.
Quyen has ordered local environment officials to collaborate with their counterparts in neighboring Hoa Binh Province to test water in the area to identify the cause of the problem.
Hoa Binh Sugar Company has admitted to discharging "dirty wastewater" into the river’s upstream.
Quyen also asked the police to begin a criminal investigation if necessary.
In Hanoi, Ngoc Khanh Lake in Ba Dinh District has been severely polluted since the beginning of the year. The malodor has become unbearable for hundreds of families though more than VND20 billion ($900,000) was spent to clean up the lake.
Ngoc Khanh Lake in Hanoi is heavily polluted. Photo: Le Nam
The water in the lake has turned green and foamy, and people said they can smell the stink hundreds of meters away.
Those living around the lake have to look for refuge during the day while many restaurants and coffee shops in the area have lost their clientele.
In Quang Ngai Province, a coastal village has reported hundreds of deaths due to cancer, or 90 percent of all deaths there, since 2000. People are worried there is a problem with their water source.
Vietnam is going through its biggest environmental crisis ever with at least 100 tons of fish washed ashore last month in Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue provinces, apparently killed by industrial effluents. Thousands of families in fishing villages along the central coast have been affected.
Suspicion has centered on Taiwanese steel plant Formosa, which admitted it has a large sewage pipe going straight into the sea in Ha Tinh. But it claimed all its discharged wastewater had been treated.
People across the country have been waiting anxiously for a credible answer to the problem, which has tested the ability of the country to detect and handle large-scale disasters.
The environment ministry said Saturday it has completed a thorough inspection of Formosa involving around 100 experts. But it has yet to announce the findings.