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Bắc Ninh's polluted craft village impacts local health

Update: September, 08/2015 - 13:00
Smoke from the foundries in Mẫn Xá craft village in northern Bac Ninh Province was discharged directly into the air, without any treatment.— Photo

BẮC NINH (VNS) — People living around Mẫn Xá aluminum recycling village in this northern province are suffering from serious health complications due to an increase in pollution there, the local authority has warned.

The craft village, which has existed for more than 50 years in Văn Mon Commune, Yên Phong District, is known as one of the most polluted in the northern part of the country.

Nguyễn Đức Phúc, chairman of Văn Mon Commune People's Committee, said that more than 90 per cent of jobs in Mẫn Xá Village involved recycling aluminum, lead and transport scrap.

He said in addition to more than 20 large-scale workshops that concentrated and cast aluminum and lead, and refined copper and zinc, almost every household in Mẫn Xá owned at least one foundry, consuming an average of 12 to 14 tonnes of material per year.

Most of the work is done in a polluted environment. Workers, who are mostly local residents, mainly use their hands and are not given any protective gear.

Nguyễn Văn Thực, a senior villager, said many locals who were once farmers had to give up tending their land to take up aluminum recycling projects since the land was not fertile enough for agricultural production.

Everyone knew the job was hazardous, but it greatly improved the villagers' finances, so they kept working at it without any concern for its impact on their health, Thuc said.

Locals complained that in some seasons, the stench was unbearable, while during the monsoons, the area was flooded with polluted water. They couldn't plant trees or raise fish. Many people living near workshops had to wear masks inside their homes to avoid inhaling toxic dust.

Smoke from the foundries was also discharged directly into the air, without any treatment.

"That is why the lead level in the air in Mẫn Xá was always tens of times higher than the allowance standard," a local environmentalist said.

With the rapid increase in water and air pollution levels, Mẫn Xá has become one of the 37 "cancer villages" of Viet Nam, according to research conducted by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

The villagers, mainly the elderly and children, have respiratory, gastrointestinal and skin diseases. The death rate for cancer is 50 per cent, Nguyễn Văn Duy, head of Văn Mon Commune Health Station, said.

The commune designed a plan to build an industrial zone, gathering all the village's workshops and foundries under strict environmental protection and management rules, Phuc said.

The zone, which was expected to cover an area of 30ha, had received Bắc Ninh Province's approval for research and land acquisition, he added.

However, the research and land acquisition, which should have been completed in 2014, have yet to begin. The plan to open the concentrated craft zone in 2017 seemed too far-fetched, and the project continued to exist only on paper, Phúc said.

Most of the villagers wanted to leave the village, but they couldn't because they'd have to leave their ancestral land where they could earn a living and survive, Thực said.

"We can only accept our fate to live and die here and just hope that we will soon escape the pollution," he said. — VNS

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