“Our test results indicate there is no evidence to conclude that Formosa in Ha Tinh province is behind the mass fish deaths. The environmental indicators do not exceed the regulatory threshold”, deputy minister of Natural Resources and Environment Vo Tuan Nhan said at a press conference this evening.
Seven Vietnamese ministries and other related agencies had a closed meeting on the cause of the mass fish deaths in the central provinces of Vietnam this afternoon April 27. Deputy minister Nhan said the problem is “very complicated” and that “it took other countries with a similar problem many years to find the cause [of mass fish deaths]."
According to Nhan, the top scientists who attended the meeting have initially come up with two major hypotheses to explain the mass fish deaths. One is the toxic chemical released by human activities. Another is an abnormal natural phenomenon which causes the algae in water to bloom, commonly known as the “red tide”.
The deputy minister said the above hypotheses must be thoroughly validated to identify the cause of the mass fish deaths and to draw a long term solution for other similar disasters. Nhan said Ministry of Science and Technology will oversee the process to be carried out by science research institutions, and if necessary, other international research organizations will also be requested to assist.
Nhan said the agriculture ministry would announce the results of the toxic chemical tests and make recommendations on whether the locals should continue fishing, consume the fish or use it as aquaculture product.
Meanwhile, also today, Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung has ordered People’s Committees of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue provinces to collect and treat all the dead fish to prevent pollution. Consumption of or using said fish to feed livestock and poultry is strictly prohibited. Ministry of Health is responsible for guiding the provinces in conducting relevant inspections.
Nhan ended the press conference without taking any questions from journalists who had been waiting for the announcement for hours.
The mass fish deaths along the central provinces of Vietnam were first reported in fish cages placed at sea near Vung Ang ward at the beginning of April. Since then, thousands of saltwater and freshwater fish as well as fish raised in cages have died in the provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue. Locals who live along the coast have collected tons of dead fish since then, some weighing up to 50kg.
On April 25, Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology established that an oil spill and recent earthquakes were not to blame for the dead fish. Top officials from Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development think that a strong toxic substance that has yet to be identified might be the main cause.
Dead fish found on a beach in Central Vietnam. Photo by Duc Hung
Suspicion has centered on Formosa, a major steel company in the Vung Ang Economic Zone, which has installed a wastewater pipe going out to the sea. A few days before the fish started washing up, the company had flushed the pipe for cleaning. About 300 tons of imported chemicals that the company used are believed to be extremely hazardous.
Yesterday, representatives of Formosa bowed to apologize to the public for a statement made by Formosa’s deputy chief in Hanoi Chou Chun Fan in an interview with VTC television on April 26: “Sometimes in order to win something, you have to lose something. It’s impossible to build a steel plant here and keep fish stocks in the surrounding area high at the same time.” The company is reported to fire Fan for making the statement.
The last three days have also seen tens of tons of clamshells on a beach in Ky Ha commune, Ha Tinh province. These clams have been identified to have died approximately 20 days ago.