Sludge from copper extraction barrels down northern Vietnam houses

By Gia Chinh   August 8, 2023 | 07:12 am PT
Sludge from copper extraction barrels down northern Vietnam houses
A stream of ore-processing sludge rushes down a neighborhood in Lao Cai Province in northern Vietnam, Aug. 8, 2023. Photo obtained by VnExpress
Thousands of cubic meters of water and sludge from copper ore processing barreled down houses in northern Lao Cai Province on Tuesday.

At around 8:30 a.m., the stream of blackish water coming from a reservoir that contains waste from the extraction of copper from ores rushed towards Ta Phoi Commune. The wastewater inundated houses and the commune's People’s Committee office.

A local said the stream came quickly and without warning, so they could only escape with their lives, not having enough time to take their belongings.

Tran Van Hung, chairman of Ta Phoi Commune People’s Committee, said the stream was caused by the breakage of the reservoir of Taphoi Copper company. The firm has already deployed vehicles and personnel to repair the reservoir.

"The wastewater entered 46 houses, affecting more than 200 people," Hung said, adding that the flow of wastewater has been stopped.

The Lao Cai People’s Committee said long-lasting rains have contributed to the breakage, and the exact amount of damage incurred is being evaluated.

Hoang Duong Tung, former deputy head of the Vietnam Environment Administration, said what happened was a "serious environmental incident" as ore-processing sludge must be tightly managed and not allowed to be leaked into the environment.

"Emergency environmental response measures like soil and water quality checks need to be done," Tung said.

Pham Van Son, director of the Vietnam Environmental Incident Response Center, said the sludge from the company contains heavy metals and other chemicals, and once it enters the environment, there would be no way to completely clean them. These substances would seep into the ground and may contaminate groundwater sources, and part of them may be dissipated into the air.

Son said it would be impractical to remove millions of cubic meters of contaminated soil.

Lao Cai has been seeing rains over the past week, with the highest amount of rainfall seen on Monday night at 80 mm, according to the National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting. Heavy rains have triggered erosion at over 140 locations in Lao Cai, damaging more than 30 houses and flooding more than 110 others. Over 340 ha of crops and around 2 ha of aquaculture have also been damaged.

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