Vietnam's Saigon River poisoned to death

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The Saigon River is dying, badly contaminated with wastewater and garbage. Photo by Diep Duc Minh

The Saigon River is dying.

The pride and sustenance of Ho Chi Minh City is severely contaminated with wastewater and urgent steps have to be taken to save it, experts said at a workshop Tuesday (November 26).

The river's waters failed to meet national quality standards in recent tests, said Nguyen Van Phuoc, director of Institute of Environment and Natural Resources under the Vietnam National University.

He told the workshop, jointly organized by the Sai Gon Giai Phong (Liberated Saigon) newspaper and HCMC Department of Science and Technology, that studies were done during the rainy season in 2011 and dry season in 2012 on the stretch that flows between the Ben Suc Bridge (Cu Chi District) and Phu My Bridge (which connects districts 2 and 7).

He said the water quality goes down in downstream areas due to stronger impact of domestic and industrial wastewater in HCMC and the neighboring province of Binh Duong.

Domestic wastewater is the most serious cause of pollution, making up 62.2 percent of the total wastewater that flows into the river, the workshop heard.

Nearly 50 industrial parks and clusters are situated along the river, discharging more than 100,000 cubic meters of wastewater per day.

Though most of them have central wastewater treatment systems, many firms in the parks and clusters directly pump their untreated wastewater into river without using the treatment plants.

Small production facilities in urban residential areas, especially pottery factories and riparian eateries in Binh Duong's Lai Thieu Ward, also discharge untreated wastewater into the river.  

Hospital and health centers discharge about one-tenth of the wastewater from industrial parks and clusters in terms of volume, but more than 65 percent of these establishments do not have satisfactory wastewater treatment systems, although their discharge can contain dangerous bacteria and other hazardous.

Animal farms also release more than 2,600 cubic meters of wastewater containing harmful bacteria, worsening to the contamination.

Phuoc said the city has just one wastewater treatment plant with a capability of 140,000 cubic meters a day, while the rest of more than 1.2 million cubic meters discharged every day from local households is pumped directly into the river without treatment.

Wastewater treatment factories should have their technology upgraded to process pollutants such as microorganisms and heavy metals, he said.

Nguyen Ngoc Anh of the HCMC Irrigation Association and Phan Minh Tan, director of the city's technology department called for more monitoring stations along the Dong Nai River, of which Saigon River is one tributary, so that the authorities are regularly updated on the river's situation. 

Anh said more water should be discharged from upstream reservoirs to push back pollution.

Phung Chi Sy, deputy director of the Vietnam Institute of Tropical Technology and Environmental Protection, said many measures had to be taken together, including better domestic wastewater collection and treatment, relocation of firms that cause pollution, and projects to prevent pollution, improve the environment, protect nature and biodiversity, and increase public awareness about river protection.

Dong Nai River, which is the longest to run exclusively within Vietnam, provides water for nearly 20 million people of 11 provinces and cities, including HCMC, Binh Duong, Dong Nai, Long An and Tay Ninh, living along it. Half of them are HCMC citizens.

Saigon River, 256 km long, is one of the main tributaries of Dong Nai River, flowing into Dong Nai River in Nha Be District. It starts in hill areas of Binh Phuoc Province's Loc Ninh District, which borders Cambodia.

It is the city's main source of water supply, main waterway that facilitates a lot of trade and commerce, and hosts important facilities, including the Saigon Port, a busy container port network, and Thu Thiem Tunnel, one of the longest cross-tunnel in Southeast Asia.

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