Fish Death Crisis Prompts Vietnam Waste Water Probe

  • Pipe carried waste from Taiwanese-owned steel plant into sea
  • Plant owner says water treatment system received full approval

Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered an investigation into how a Taiwanese-owned steel plant located near central Vietnamese beaches where millions of dead fish washed ashore last month received approval to pipe waste water directly into the sea.

With the official cause of the fish deaths still unknown and the newly sworn-in government struggling to contain growing public anger over the disaster, Phuc said the government was determined to track down the main culprits with "objectivity, honesty, prudence and urgency."

"This is the most serious environmental incident Vietnam has faced," Phuc said. "We must continue to probe the cause of this disaster. Whichever agency, organization, individual that violates the laws will be investigated on a scientific basis. No one is allowed to cover up any infringements. The government is determined to protect the people’s rightful interests."

The investigation comes after protesters took to the streets last weekend to criticize the government’s response to the crisis, which has tested the government’s ability to balance public health and safety concerns against economic development and the interests of Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp. The company, a unit of Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics, is considering whether to raise its investment in Ha Tinh from $10.5 billion to $28.5 billion.

Government Licensed

"If the disaster occurred in other countries, a state of emergency would have been declared or at least warnings would have been given to the public," said a Facebook user named Nguyen Tien Thanh. "What we have seen is that nearly a month after the incident was first reported, the government leader started giving instructions."

Formosa Ha Tinh Steel executive vice president Chang Fu-ning said the steel plant’s waste water treatment system had received all appropriate approvals.

"We’ve received official notification about the inspection," said Fu-ning. "Our waste water discharge system received license from the environment ministry, and we went through an environmental protection impact assessment. It’s beyond doubt."

More than 70 metric tons of wild and farmed fish were found dead on the coast of four provinces since early last month. A preliminary investigation by the environment ministry said the fish might have been killed by toxins released by human activities or algal blooms known as a red tide. It also says there is no evidence to show Formosa was the culprit. According to tests conducted by the Thua Thien Hue government, seawater samples taken from locations where the dead fish were found showed high levels of heavy metals.

Prime Minister Phuc has also ordered the environment minister Tran Hong Ha and the Ha Tinh province to monitor the waste water discharge system at the steel plant and activate the automatic monitoring system to collect waste water samples for testing.

(Corrects provinces doing inspections in penultimate and final paragraphs.)
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