Viet Nam News
QUẢNG TRỊ - The seawater off the four central provinces, which was earlier polluted by toxic wastewater released by a Taiwanese-owned steel company, is now mostly safe for swimming, water sports and aquaculture, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Trần Hồng Hà said.
However, some areas were still not safe including whirlpools in the north of Ngang Pass and Nhật Lệ (Quảng Bình Province), areas from Cửa Tùng to Cồn Cỏ island (Quảng Trị Province), and Chân Mây (Thừa Thiên Huế Province).
It would also take more time for scientists to study and conclude whether it was safe to eat the seafood caught there, the minister said, while calling for more patience from the people as this was “a matter that directly involves people’s lives”.
The minister said this at a meeting this morning, held to announce the assessment of the environment condition in the four central provinces extending from Hà Tĩnh to Thừa Thiên Huế, following mass fish deaths for which Taiwanese firm Hưng Nghiệp Formosa Hà Tĩnh Steel Corporation was found to be the culprit.
The meeting was jointly organised by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE), the Việt Nam Academy of Science and Technology, Việt Nam National University - Hà Nội, and Quảng Trị Province’s People’s Committee.
Prof Dr Mai Trọng Nhuận, head of the expert group designated by MONRE to conduct the assessment, earlier told the meeting that the marine environment in the four affected provinces was improving, as per the results of their investigations conducted from April to August.
Nhuận, also former rector of Việt Nam National University - Hà Nội, said the investigations in July and August showed the amount of toxic substances that the steel company had discharged into the sea, such as phenol, cyanide and iron hydroxide, had reduced remarkably, with the reduction rate in some areas being as high as 90 per cent. Coral reefs have developed again and some marine creatures have reappeared.
“The marine ecosystem is gradually recovering,” he said.
He said there were still some areas that needed further and closer supervision, such as Sơn Dương (Hà Tĩnh Province), east of Nhật Lệ (Quảng Bình Province) and Sơn Chà islet (Thừa Thiên Huế Province), where it was harder for the toxic chemicals to dissolve in water and easier to accumulate in sediments.
According to statistics gathered by the Ministry of Health from April 28 to August 8, the pollutants found in seafood caught off the four affected provinces had also gradually decreased, he said.
However, he stopped short of saying whether the seafood there was safe for consumption.
Dr Friedhelm Schroeder, a German environmentalist invited by the government and MONRE to conduct an environment impact assessment of the mass fish deaths incident, said from thorough discussions with Vietnamese scientists, he saw that their research methods and perspectives were basically close to global standards.
“I can affirm that the seawater in the central region is safe for swimming. If I have a chance, I will go swimming this afternoon to prove it,” Dr Schroeder said.
He said some varieties of small fish were seen in the sea again, but added that health experts should conduct more tests on samples of seafood caught in the area to make conclusions about their quality.
He said the Vietnamese government and related authorities should tighten control over the discharge of wastewater into the sea to prevent companies’ underhand activities.
Prof Dr Trần Nghi, a senior environmentalist, said as a rule of nature toxic substances would gradually be eliminated and sediments would be cleaned after a period of time.
“It is just a matter of when it will happen,” he said.
He said the scientist group’s research was just the first phase and that he was waiting for the second phase to see when the marine environment there would totally return to normal conditions.
Đặng Quốc Khánh, chairman of Hà Tĩnh Province’s People’s Committee, said he felt upbeat on hearing from scientists that the seawater’s condition had mostly improved.
He said besides the conclusion by MONRE, the ministries of agriculture and rural development, and health should co-operate to resolve health-related problems of people living in coastal areas and to help them find new jobs.
Lê Minh Ngân, vice chairman of Quảng Bình Province’s People’s Committee, said the competent authorities should announce when the sea up to 20 to 50 nautical miles would be safe for fishing.
Meanwhile, Nguyễn Văn Hùng, secretary of Quảng Trị Province’s Party Committee, said the hope was that after this announcement, tourists would return to the region and the difficulties of fishermen and coastal residents would ease.
Late in June, the Vietnamese government blamed Hưng Nghiệp Formosa Hà Tĩnh Steel Corporation for the mass fish deaths in four central Vietnamese provinces, which came to public notice in April. Leaders of the company apologised to the Vietnamese government and people and committed to give US$500 million as compensation to the affected people, to help fishermen find new jobs, pay for the clean-up, and restore the marine environment.
A government report in July said about 100 tonnes of fish died and their carcasses washed ashore, and about 17,600 fishing ships and nearly 41,000 people were directly hit by the serious incident, while it also affected 176,000 others who were dependents. — VNS