HA NOI — Polluting brick kilns are continuing to operate in Soc Son District despite the fact their toxic smoke caused the death of three people last Monday and has been killing livestock over a long period.
Brick kilns in Bac Son Commune are the main source of jobs for the majority of residents. Pollution from the kilns has prompted moves to introduce a cleaner and more efficient brick-making process. — VNS Photo Truong Vi
They had not been forced to close because they were the main source of jobs in the area, said Bac Son People's Committee chairman Ta Hong Thai.
Up to 1000 people of Bac Son Commune's 200 households work in the 150 private brick kilns, most of which were located only 20m-100m from residents' houses.
However, moves were under way to have the polluting brick kilns replaced within the next two years by tunnel kilns, which were more economical and less polluting, Thai said.
Director of the Poison Control Centre under the Bach Mai Hospital Pham Due said brick kilns released many poisonous gases which, when inhaled, could paralyse muscles and cause victims to go unconscious and die within hours.
Lai Son Village resident Nguyen Van Dang said the deaths in the village were the first to be directly attributed to the noxious smoke from the kilns. However residents had been seriously affected by the fumes for years. he said.
They had to close their doors and windows when they were at home, and use face masks when they went out to avoid breathing in the emissions, he said.
"Livestock has died and rice and produce have been destroyed by the smoke," he said.
A brick kiln worker, who did not wish to be named, said she knew how poisonous the job was, but it paid a good wage – more than VND100,000 (US$5.20) a day – so she kept doing it.
Commune Healthcare Centre head Nguyen Van Tan said local health officials didn't have the legal authority to fine local residents for setting up the kilns.
"We can spread knowledge through the commune's radio broadcast system about how to avoid smoke inhalation and we can warned kiln owners not to build tents too near the kilns," he said.
Chairman Thai said residents in the area were quite poor and earned their living by raising poultry and making bricks.
"Because of a lack of capital, private brick kilns release untreated smoke into the air," he said.
To minimise the pollution caused by the kilns and implement the Prime Minister's Decision 115, which regulated that by the end of this year all handicraft brick-kilns across the country must stop their work, the commune authority had banned local residents from building brick kilns and suspended the operations of all existing kilns in the district.
However, local authorities could only fine violators VND2 million ($105), so they ignored the ban, Thai said.
"The fine is too low compared with the profits they earn from the kilns."
Meanwhile, local authorities were trying their best to find other sources of income for kiln operators, he said.
"We are calling for help from enterprises and investors and asking experts to advise residents on the designs and operations of tunnel brick kilns," Thai said.
"I expect by the end of 2012 all brick kilns in the commune will be replaced by tunnel kilns."
Kiln owner Nguyen Van Tuan explained that brick making was the residents' only way to earn their living and they had borrowed hundreds of million dong from banks to set them up so there was little option but to keep producing.
Chairman of the Centre for Environment, Education, Research and Development Nguyen Huu Ninh blamed the situation on local authorities who, he said, had given private brick kilns operators permission to operate without imposing controls.
"They should have considered how the kilns would affect the environment before they licensed them," Ninh said. — VNS