Hanoi water supplier says sorry 17 days after playing victim

By Vo Hai   October 25, 2019 | 02:38 am PT
Hanoi water supplier says sorry 17 days after playing victim
Oil filters are installed to treat contamination in the water source of Viwasupco, which supplies water to around one million people in Hanoi, October 17, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/P.X.
17 days after evading responsibility for a million Hanoi residents being supplied with oil-contaminated tap water, the supplier apologized Friday.

Vinaconex Water Supply Joint Stock Company (Viwasupco), which supplies potable water to 250,000 families in 10 districts in southwestern Hanoi, said in the statement that it was yet to have a suitable response to the emergency scenario caused by humans, which has led to confusion in handling the situation in the first place, causing disorder in daily activities of local residents.

"Through the media, the company would like to send an apology to Hanoi citizens, especially those that have been directly affected by the incident and hopes to receive forgiveness."

The firm also said it will not charge users any fee for the running water during the period of the crisis, "which means the water fees for one month."

On October 8, a 2.5 ton tanker dumped used oil into a creek in Hoa Binh Province that feeds into the Da River, which Viwasupco’s water source.

Two days later, residents in the southeast of Hanoi detected an unpleasant, pungent odor in their tap water. Tests of the smelly water by authorities later found that the level of styrene, an organic compound that is probably carcinogenic, was 1.3-3.6 times higher than normal.

Hanoi authorities then warned residents that they should not use the water for drinking or cooking, only for other purposes like washing clothes and bathing.

It was found out later that the company had been aware of the contamination, but chose to continue its water supply anyway.

Worse still, the company responded to residents' complaints about the smell saying it was probably the extra chlorine used to neutralize pollution. An official even said that whether or not the water was smelly was a subjective thing that depended on the individual.

Worried residents had to resort to using bottled water, which saw sales and prices soar. People carried cans and bottles and waited in line for hours to get some clean water from tankers sent by the city administration.

Residents at an apartment project in Hanoi gather their water bottles to get free clean water from a tank provided by the city on October 14, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Residents at an apartment project in Hanoi gather their water bottles to get free clean water from a tanker sent by the city administration on October 14, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

On October 17, Viwasupco restored its water supply after suspending it for one day for cleaning its pipes and reservoirs. Hanoi officials later said the latest tap water samples had passed safety tests, but continued to advise residents against consuming it.

On Tuesday, the city announced the water was safe enough for drinking and cooking.

In a press conference amidst the crisis, on October 17, Viwasupo representatives even said that it was the "biggest victim" in the incident, adding that the case was being investigated, and therefore "all decisions related to the interest of Hanoi's citizens must wait for the investigation's results." They made no apology for their mistakes and callous responses to affected residents.

The Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha said earlier this week that those affected by the contaminated tap water could sue Viwasupco, adding that current regulations were adequate to deal with the water supplier in this case.

"This is a business that provides water. They were aware of the polluted water but still provided the product, so users who have inked contracts can file lawsuits against the firm," he said.

Meanwhile police in Hoa Binh Province, where the contaminated creek and Da River section flows through, have arrested three suspects for dumping the used oil.

They are continuing investigations into the responsibilities of all possible parties involved in the incident.

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